Ford Motor Company says it has teamed up with Jose Cuervo to explore the use of the tequila producer’s agave plant byproduct to develop more sustainable bioplastics to use in Ford vehicles.
If the companies are successful in developing a composite, it could help reduce vehicle weight and lower energy consumption, while reducing the use of petrochemicals and shrinking the environmental footprint of vehicle production.
Lightweighting vehicles can help them achieve better fuel economy, which is increasingly important as federal agencies begin a mid-term review of fuel efficiency standards that aims to double cars and light trucks’ fuel economy by 2025.
Using plant waste and other sustainable plastics initiatives, if scaled up across industries, also represents a huge environmental savings opportunity to the tune of $3.5 billion, according to a recent paper by Trucost.
Ford and Jose Cuervo are testing the bioplastic for use in vehicle interior and exterior components such as wiring harnesses, HVAC units and storage bins.
The companies say initial assessments look good and that the material’s durability and aesthetic qualities show promise.
The growth cycle of the agave plant is a minimum seven-year process. Once harvested, the heart of the plant is roasted, before grinding and extracting its juices for distillation. Jose Cuervo uses a portion of the remaining agave fibers as compost for its farms, and local artisans make crafts and agave paper from the remnants.
Working with Ford may produce another use for the remnant fibers, further reducing Jose Cuervo’s waste produced in the tequila making process.
The collaboration with Jose Cuervo is the latest example of Ford’s use of biomaterials — something the automaker has been researching since 2000. Today, Ford uses soy foam, castor oil, wheat straw, kenaf fiber, cellulose, wood, coconut fiber and rice hulls in its vehicles.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 5 billion metric tons of agricultural biomass waste is produced annually. These abundant materials can be relatively low cost, and can help manufacturers to offset the use of glass fibers and talc for more sustainable, lightweight products.
“There are about 400 pounds of plastic on a typical car,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability research department, in a statement announcing the partnership. “Our job is to find the right place for a green composite like this to help our impact on the planet. It is work that I’m really proud of, and it could have broad impact across numerous industries.”