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Fighting bacteria in the car, one sticky swab at a time

Ford is developing interior materials that can better resist microbes.

By Douglas Newcomb Oct 29, 2012 12:00PM

Ford interior research. Photo by Ford.Micro-organisms in your car interior not only cause mold, mildew, bad smells and even illness. To find out which parts of a vehicle interior are prime breeding grounds for micro-organisms, engineers from Ford’s Research and Innovation Center teamed with scientists from the University of Michigan.


Using cotton swabs, they collected samples from 10 locations -- including the steering wheel, radio buttons, door handles, window switches and gear shift knobs -- in a variety of employee-owned vehicles. The samples were cultured and later analyzed at a UM laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich.


According to Ford, the researchers “found significant bacteria growth at most of the test locations, with the highest concentrations on the steering wheel and the area around the cupholders.”


“We weren’t surprised to find microbial hot spots on the steering wheel, since that is where a driver’s hands are most of the time,” Cindy Peters, a Ford technical expert, said in a statement. “The console area near the cupholders is a common location for spilled drinks, so it provides an ideal feeding ground for microbes.


While it doesn't take a research team to determines that sticky steering wheels and yucky cupholders can breed bacteria, the aim of the project is to take a more active role in combating microbial growth in a car's interior. “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,” said Dr. Blaise Boles, an assistant professor in the UM Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.


Ford found that silver ion, an EPA-approved antimicrobial additive that goes by the trade name Agion, can significantly cut down on bacterial growth when added to interior materials. After exposing panels coated with the substance to an accelerated aging process, they found that its microbe-controlling properties stood up to the equivalent of years of exposure to sun and heat.


Ford says that its experimental germ-fighting interiors could eventually find their way into future vehicles to appeal to car owners who are sensitive to chemicals -- and who aren't among the Americans who spend approximately $2.3 billion annually on air fresheners, according to the market research firm Mintel.


[Source: Inside Line]


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