A car manufacturer and a tequila producer unite to repurpose agave remnants for use in motor vehicles.
The Ford Motor Company and tequila maker Jose Cuervo have formed an unusual partnership. The two companies are exploring ways to take the remnants of the agave plant and transform them into components used in automobiles. Tequila, an important ingredient in margaritas, is derived from the blue agave plant, grown throughout central Mexico. The plant byproduct is currently used as compost and is also repurposed by artisans who make crafts and agave paper.
The Jose Cuervo is the world’s largest producer of tequila, a spirit that is made by harvesting 8-year-old agave plants, roasting the heart of the plant, then grinding and extracting the juices for distillation. It is the plant’s byproduct that interests Ford. The automaker and tequila producer are testing to see if the byproduct of agave could be used for sustainable bioplastics in Ford vehicles.
Beyond Tequila: Agave Byproducts
Current experiments involve taking the resulting bioplastic and using it in a vehicle’s interior and exterior components. In particular, the bioplastic could be used for wiring harnesses, HVAC units and storage bins. Early results are promising as the biomaterial has proven adaptable and durable. In a press release, Ford says that “a sustainable composite could help reduce vehicle weight and lower energy consumption.” Ford also says that the agave byproduct could reduce its dependency on petrochemicals, effectively decreasing each vehicle’s impact on the environment.
Since 2000, Ford has been researching ways to take biomaterials and use them in their cars. As part of its quest for environmental stewardship, the automaker now uses eight materials that come from sustainable sources in its vehicles.
Ford notes that 5 billion metric tons of agricultural biomass waste is produced annually and most is not fully utilized, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Ford has discovered that such remnants can help manufacturers reduce their use of glass fibers and talc at a relatively low cost. With roughly 400 pounds of plastic used in the average car, offsetting with biomaterials reduces weight.
Sustainable Biomaterials in Ford Products
Beyond agave, here are some of the biomaterials Ford currently uses or is researching:
1. Wheat straw — The Ford Flex’s third-row interior storage bins include a natural fiber-based plastic composed of 20 percent wheat straw bio-filler. Introduced in the 2010 Flex, wheat straw may find other uses, including in the construction of armrest liners and door trim panels.
2. Kenaf fiber — Similar to cotton, kenaf is used as seed oil and as tree-free paper. Ford has harvested kenaf remnants to create door panels. By utilizing kenaf, Ford says it reduces door bolster weight by 25 percent.
3. Plastic bottles — Consider the amount of plastic bottles used by the average household. Do you ever wonder how they’re recycled? Well, Ford uses Repreve, a product produced by Unifi, Inc., that’s comprised of recycled plastic bottles. The material is used in more than 50 seat fabrics.
4. Soybeans — Once soybeans are harvested for soy milk, the casings are then utilized to make new products, including clothing. Shirts, gloves, shorts, pants, skirts and even bras are some of the clothing articles manufacturers make from soybean waste. Ford turns soybean casings into the foam now found in more than 15 million car seat cushions and seat backs. As a result, the company says it has reduced petroleum consumption by more than 13 million pounds.
5. Blue jeans — That pair of Levis you once wore with pride and discarded may have found its way under the hood of select Ford vehicles. Ford collects post-consumer cotton made from jeans and t-shirts and turns it into a sound-deadening material. The automaker says that it takes about two pairs of jeans to provide sufficient hood insulation for one car.
6. Car tires — One of the earliest recycled products Ford has been working with are used tires. Since 1992, the automaker has collected more than 10 million tires from its dealers to make PermaLife Products. PermaLife is used as a rubber mulch product, ideal for your garden or playground. Ford also recycles old rubber to make new seals and gaskets for many of its vehicles.
7. Tomato Skins — Jose Cuervo represents just one of the many manufacturers Ford works with in an effort to find sustainable solutions. Ford and H.J. Heinz are collaborating in an effort to turn tomato waste byproduct into something useful, such as a coin storage bin in a Ford product.
Environmental Sustainability Continues
Car manufacturers are always under an environmental spotlight with gasoline consumption the main concern. Despite the recent easing of the rules for Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) efficiency standards by federal regulators, manufacturers such as Ford continue to find ways to improve vehicle light-weighting through the use of sustainable materials.