Henry Ford long had an interest in materials science and engineering. He enthusiastically described his company’s adoption of vanadium steel alloys and subsequent metallurgic R&D work.
Ford long had an interest in plastics developed from agricultural products, especially soybeans. He cultivated a relationship with George Washington Carver for this purpose. Soybean-based plastics were used in Ford automobiles throughout the 1930s in plastic parts such as car horns, in paint, etc. This project culminated in 1942, when Ford patented an automobile made almost entirely of plastic, attached to a tubular welded frame. It weighed 30% less than a steel car and was said to be able to withstand blows ten times greater than could steel. Furthermore, it ran on grain alcohol (ethanol) instead of gasoline. The design never caught on.
Ford was interested in engineered woods (“Better wood can be made than is grown”) (at this time plywood and particle board were little more than experimental ideas); corn as a fuel source, via both corn oil and ethanol; and the potential uses of cotton. Ford was instrumental in developing charcoal briquets, under the brand name “Kingsford”. His brother in law, E.G. Kingsford, used wood scraps from the Ford factory to make the briquets.
Ford was a prolific inventor and was awarded 161 U.S. patents.