Tequila firm to fuel Ford’s use of sustainable plant-fibre plastics
THE New York Times of August 14, 1941, reported that Henry Ford had plans to make panels for the T Model from 50% southern slash pine fibre, 30% straw, 10% hemp and 10% ramie, the material used by the ancient Egyptians to encase mummies.
Ford proved that the plastic panels were 10 times stronger than steel by hitting them with an axe and failing to make a dent. The same axe sliced right through the metal panels used at the time.
In Dearborn, the Ford designers have returned to these roots by teaming up with Jose Cuervo to explore the use of the tequila producer’s agave plant by-product to develop more sustainable bioplastics to employ in Ford vehicles.
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. 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 the use of petrochemicals and the impact of vehicle production on the environment.
“At Ford, we aim to reduce our impact on the environment,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability research department. “As a leader in the sustainability space, we are developing new technologies to employ efficiently discarded materials and fibres, while potentially reducing the use of petrochemicals and lightweighting our vehicles for desired fuel economy.”
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.
Now, as part of Jose Cuervo’s broader sustainability plan, the tequila maker is joining forces with the automaker to develop a new way to use its remnant fibres.
“Jose Cuervo is proud to be working with Ford to further develop our agave sustainability plan,” said Sonia Espinola, director of heritage for Cuervo Foundation and master tequilera. “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.”
Like Ford Motor Company, Jose Cuervo is family owned and operated. Founded in 1795, it has been making tequila for more than 220 years with the same experience, craftsmanship and recipes.
The collaboration with Jose Cuervo is the latest example of Ford’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, 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 underutilised. 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 [181 kg] of plastic in a typical car,” said Mielewski. “Our job is to find the right place for a green composite like this to help our impact on the planet.”
Bioplastics made from the agave fibres that can be turned into plastic panels.