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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Deere, Ford build Gator prototype from recyclable materials

There are many reasons golf course operations might want to implement a recycling program.

It eliminates the amount of waste deposited into landfills, conserves resources and reduces pollution. It also can be monetized and the PR value can be important for an industry that struggles to communicate its work in environmental stewardship.

082522 gator1.jpgFor all the reasons people believe they should recycle, using the pieces to build a utility vehicle likely is not among them. But that is exactly what Deere and Ford are doing.

Plastic bottles pulled from the Mississippi and coconut filler are just two of the materials used to construct the new Sustainable Concept Gator utility vehicle (right) in a collaborative effort between John Deere and the Sustainable Materials division of Ford Motor Co. The vehicle came about largely due to the latter's desire to find ways of turning waste into viable machine components.

“When the idea of the Sustainable Concept Gator project came about, the goal was to explore a variety of materials to be used for possible adoption across product lines to support our goals around increasing use of sustainable materials,” said Andy Greenlee, senior staff engineer for sustainable solutions at John Deere.

Ford was an ideal partner, Greenlee said.

“Ford is a long-time leader in sustainable materials and has been integrating sustainable parts into their vehicles for decades – even back to Henry Ford experimenting with soybean oil in the 1930s,” he said.

"Getting the opportunity to look at things that are out in the future and focus on what we need to develop to add value to our customers while reducing our environmental footprint was a great experience."

The project was a complex collaboration with both Deere and Ford’s supplier networks, many going above and beyond to support the project, to build a prototype created with renewable, recycled and recyclable materials such as soybeans, flax fiber, sugar cane, hemp fiber, bottles, and even fishing nets.

“It was difficult because we had to work within our current framework of production tooling, we weren’t going to invest in new tooling for a product that won’t go to market, but we did everything we could to find sustainable materials that were suitable replacements,” said Keith Shanter, senior materials engineer for Deere.

Despite the uniqueness of the sustainable Gator, which has been in the works since 2018 , the vehicle is not for sale, nor will it go into mass production anytime soon. Instead, the vehicle is a symbol of the future of sustainability.

“The Sustainable Concept Gator has provided us key learnings,” SAID Jill Sanchez, Deere's director of sustainability. “It shows how innovative thinking and innovative partnerships provide invaluable insight into how we can apply sustainable material use in the future.”

Though many components used in the Sustainable Concept Gator are not a short-term production solution, the materials pave the way for sustainable solutions, including one that is in production now.

“One component from this project that’s in Gators produced today," Shanter said, "is a defrost louver made out of recycled tires.”

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