Ford Powers With Paint

Dec. 21, 2004

Formally, it's known as the Fumes-to-Fuel System. And it's being tested at the Paint Shop of the Ford Rouge Center in Dearborn, Mich. In simplest terms, the environmentally friendly experiment is about generating electricity from paint fumes. Technically, it is the process of converting organic compounds found in paint fumes into hydrogen fuel for fuel cells and sending the electricity produced by the fuel cells to the center's power grid. Jointly developed by Ford Motor Co. and the utility Detroit Edison, the system, on which patents are pending, captures the volatile organic compounds present in paint fumes and concentrates them into a rich mixture of hydrocarbons, a source of fuel, Ford says. The company figures that an initial pilot system, installed last year, generates about 5,000 watts of electricity, enough to provide power for an average American home at any given moment. A larger system, expected to be put in place at another Ford location later this year, will have the capacity to produce more than 100,000 watts. "For years, we've been taking the fumes coming out of paint booths and incinerating them to protect air quality. Now we have a system that can do that even more efficiently, produce clean electricity and allow us to improve paint shop flexibility," Jay Richardson, Ford Rouge Center redevelopment manager and former Ford paint engineer, said in late April as Ford began publicizing the center's redevelopment. "When fully developed, this system has the potential to save Ford millions of dollars by reducing the cost of incinerating paint fumes in natural gas-fired furnaces, as we do now," said Mark Wherrett, the Fumes-to-Fuel System project leader and principal environmental engineer in Ford's environmental quality office. "It will also cost much less to install and maintain, virtually eliminate dioxide emissions and enable us to continue using solvent-based paints, which produce a better quality finish than powder- or water-based paints."

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