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In an effort to reduce the weight of its vehicles, Ford is looking to the plant from which tequila is made to help it lower energy consumption.

Ford has teamed up with tequila producer Jose Cuervo to explore the use of the agave plant in creating sustainable bioplastics for use in vehicles. The motor manufacturer is looking to develop components such as wiring harnesses, storage bins and items for heating, ventilation and airconditioning (HVAC) units.

Initial assessments suggest the agave plant holds promise due to its durability and aesthetic qualities. Success in developing a sustainable composite would be aimed at reducing vehicle weight and lowering energy consumption.

“The main aim is to reduce our impact on the environment,” says Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader in Ford’s sustainability research department. She says the new material will utilise fibres discarded from the agave plant after it has been processed for tequila production, thereby reducing the company’s dependence on petrochemicals in favour of biomaterials.

The growth cycle of the agave plant is a minimum seven-year process. Once harvested, the heart of the plant is roasted before being ground so that its juices can be extracted for distillation. Jose Cuervo uses a portion of the remaining fibres as compost for its farms, and local artisans make crafts and agave paper from the remnants.

 

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Now, as part of the tequila manufacturer’s broader sustainability plan, it is looking at new ways to use the plant’s discarded fibres. In the view of Sonia Espinola, director of heritage for the Cuervo Foundation, the collaboration has brought together two great companies to develop innovative, earth-conscious materials.

The tequila brand is family-owned and operated. Founded in 1795, it has been making tequila for more than 220 years using recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.

In a statement, Ford says the initiative represents the latest example of the company’s innovative approach to product and environmental stewardship through the use of biomaterials.

“Ford began researching the use of sustainable materials in its vehicles in 2000. Today, we use eight sustainable based materials in our vehicles including soy foam, castor oil, wheat straw, kenaf fibre, cellulose, wood, coconut fibre and rice hulls,” says Mielewski.

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. The materials can be obtained at relatively low cost, and can help manufacturers to offset the use of glass-fibre and talc for more sustainable, lightweight products.

Ford already has experience using fibres, following production of a prototype glove box made from sisal, a fibre from a specific type of agave. It was through this project that the company decided to go a step further by using sustainable sourcing of Jose Cuervo’s remnant material.

“There is about 181kg of plastic in a typical car,” says Mielewski. “Our job is to find the right place for a green composite like this to help to reduce our carbon footprint. It is work that I’m really proud of, and it could have broad impact across numerous industries.”

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