How Ford is trying to make cars stink less — literally

A research team at Ford Motor(s f) and the University of Michigan is studying the use of new silver-ion additives to make Ford’s future vehicles cleaner. These additives won’t go in the gas tank to reduce greenhouse emissions and they won’t go into the exterior paint job to make cars more heat reflective. Instead, these elemental ions will be used in the interior of cars to make them, well… less stinky.

Ford Research and Innovation Center engineers have been working with University of Michigan microbial ecologist Blaise Boles to test different materials for microbe resistance. Cars – especially ones that have lost their new car smell – tend to become breeding grounds for colonies of mildew and mold. The biggest problem areas Boles found were on the steering wheel and in areas around a car’s cup holders. And as you might expect, the build-up of those microorganisms produce unpleasant odors.

“Our findings suggest car interiors are complex ecosystems that house trillions of diverse microorganisms interacting with each other, with humans, and with their environment,” Boles said. “The long-term goal is to define the microbial ecology of the car interior and to optimize the design of car interiors to promote comfort and environmental sustainability.”

Working with Ford engineers, Boles tested several compounds including ammonium salt and polyolefin wax, but ultimately they found that a silver-ion additive that goes by the trade name Agion was most successful at arresting microbial growth. The silver ions, when infused into a coating or paint, react with microorganisms with which they come in contact – starving, sterilizing and suffocating them so they can’t reproduce. Even after simulating years of use in the lab, the silver-ion coating lost little of microbe-resistant powers, Ford engineers found.

Ford has begun putting the Agion-infused coating on interior car parts and has begun testing their efficacy in real world conditions in Ford’s developmental vehicles. If those tests prove positive, silver ions may one day be keeping the stink at bay in our cars and trucks.

Car freshener image courtesy of Flickr user Robert S. Donovan