Tequila firm to fuel Ford’s use of sus­tain­able plant-fi­bre plas­tics

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - AL­WYN VILJOEN — WR.

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.

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