Ford turns to tequila to explore new bio-materials

Automotive giant Ford Motor Company has announced a new collaborative research approach with the world's biggest tequila producer Jose Cuervo, that will explore the potential of bio-materials made from the by-products of tequila production.

The collaborative project will see Ford and Jose Cuervo develop and test the suitability of agave fibre – produced when an agave plant is roast and grinded for tequila distillation – as a bioplastic to be used for vehicle components such as wiring harness, HVAC units and storage bins. Early testing has revealed the material holds “great promise” due to its durability and aesthetics.

“At Ford, we aim to reduce our impact on the environment,” Ford’s senior technical leader for the sustainability research department Debbie Mielewski said. “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.

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

Ford hopes that the research project will streamline the production of reduced-weight vehicles which would also lower energy consumption, while also trimming the use of petrochemicals in the production stage.

It takes a minimum of seven years for the growth cycle of an agave plant to finalise and while Jose Cuervo uses a portion of the waste agave fibres as farming compost, the company hopes this new collaboration will reduce waste produced during the process.

Innovation drive

With Ford’s 2016 Sustainability Report revealing that the group has achieved zero-waste-to-landfill at all of its manufacturing plants in Europe, the company has turned to innovation to ramp-up sustainable operating methods.

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

Alongside bio-plastics, the company has developed an innovative recycling technique that rejuvenates worn-out engine blocks and delivers a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to producing a new engine.

The company has also announced plans to mimic the sticky toe pads of geckos to help it boost the recyclability of its car parts. The new pilot scheme aims to negate the need for glue – which makes recycling polymers nearly impossible – by teaching 200 designers and researchers about biomimicry and how to apply it to their work.

Matt Mace

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