Agave by-product car parts from Ford and Jose Cuervo

Agave by-product car parts from Ford and Jose Cuervo

agaveFord and tequila-maker Jose Cuervo are testing a bioplastic made from the agave plant for use in vehicle interior and exterior components such as wiring harnesses, HVAC units and storage bins.

Initial assessments suggest the material holds great promise due to its durability and aesthetic qualities. Success in developing a sustainable composite could reduce vehicle weight and lower energy consumption while paring back the use of petrochemicals and the impact of vehicle production on the environment.

“As a leader in the sustainability space we are developing new technologies to efficiently employ discarded materials and fibres while potentially reducing the use of petrochemicals and light-weighting our vehicles for desired fuel economy,” says Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader at its sustainability research department.

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 fibres as compost for its farms, and local artisans make crafts and agave paper from the remnants.

“As the world’s number one-selling tequila, we could never have imagined the hundreds of agave plants we were cultivating as a small family business would eventually multiply to millions. This collaboration brings two great companies together to develop innovative, earth-conscious materials,” says Sonia Espinola, director of heritage for Cuervo Foundation and master tequilera. Like Ford Motor Company, Jose Cuervo is family-owned and operated.

Ford began researching the use of sustainable materials in its vehicles in 2000. Today, the automaker uses eight sustainable-based materials in its vehicles including soy foam, castor oil, wheat straw, kenaf fibre, cellulose, wood, coconut fibre and rice hulls.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, five billion metric tons of agricultural biomass waste is produced annually. A by-product of agriculture, the supply of materials is abundant and often under utilised. Yet the materials can be relatively low cost, and can help manufacturers to offset the use of glass fibres and talc for more sustainable, lightweight products.

“There are about 400 pounds of plastic on a typical car,” says Mielewski. “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.”

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