25 Jul 2016
Soon the plastic used to make the air conditioning units, storage bins, and wiring harnesses in Ford vehicles could come from an unlikely source: Jose Cuervo Tequila.
The giant Dearborn, Michigan, based automaker announced July 12 that it was partnering with the Mexican tequila company to explore ways agave plants left over from the spirits-making process can be reclaimed to make sustainable bioplastic parts on Mustangs, Explorers, F-150 pickup trucks, and other Ford vehicles.
Inexpensive, Lightweight, and Plentiful
Agave is a type of cactus that is the primary ingredient in tequila. Jose Cuervo currently harvests between 200 and 300 tons of agave per day, shredding, mashing, and extracting the plant’s juice to make its titular alcohol product.
Currently, most of the leftover byproduct from the tequila manufacturing product has been waste products. But Jose Cuervo recently sent treated fibers to Ford, whose research and development team was able to chop it up and compound it into a lightweight, durable plastic, Ford’s senior sustainability leader Debbie Mielewski recently told the website Tech Crunch.
The researchers discovered that plastic made from agave is very durable and could be perfect for use in some of the interior and exterior auto parts on Ford vehicles. It’s also very lightweight, which could reduce overall vehicle weight and improve gas mileage.
Plant-Based Auto Parts
If agave is used to make auto parts, it won’t be the only plant used in Ford vehicles. Currently, the company uses eight sustainable-based materials for car parts, including soy foam, wheat straw, castor oil, kenaf fiber, cellulose, wood, coconut fiber, and rice hulls.
For example, Ford has used soy foam in the headrests and seat cushions of all of the vehicles sold in North America. The soybean-based product first replaced stuffing made from petroleum oil back in 2008. Now, about four million pounds of soy oil are used every year.
Ford also uses wheat straw in the Flex SUVs the company builds at its assembly plant in Oakville, California.
Transforming Wastes to Raw Materials
Right now, Ford is experimenting with fast-growing plants like bamboo and algae that can be used to make “green” plastic parts in its vehicles.
Researchers also are looking into converting carbon dioxide waste — the culprit behind greenhouse gas emissions that are adding to the hole in the planet’s ozone layer — into foams that could be used to make plastics used on its cars and trucks.
About 400 pounds of plastics are used on a typical Ford vehicle, so the more of these that can be made from agave and other sustainable carbon-based plants, the better it will be for the environment.