Remember when Ford started stuffing soy into the headrests of the F-150, Taurus, and Fusion back in 2011? Well, the automaker is always striving to make its productions processes more eco-friendly. Right now all those nifty plastic pieces inside Ford vehicles – you know, the center console, door trim panels, and the like – are all derived from petroleum and natural gas, both of which are far from “green.” All that could change, however, if a new collaboration between Ford and Jose Cuervo actually pans out.

Don’t worry, you didn’t misread that. Ford is teaming up with Jose in hopes of using a leftover byproduct of the company’s distillation process to make more eco-friendly plastic components for its entire lineup of vehicles. See, Jose Cuervo uses agave plant to make that tasty tequila that you either love or hate. Once the plant is harvested, it is roasted, pressed, fermented, and distilled to make tequila. The leftover agave fibers are currently being used as compost by Jose Cuervo, but Ford has the brilliant idea to collect the leftover fibers and use them to create interior and exterior car parts.

Believe it or not, the plan is highly feasible. Jose Cuervo harvests upward or 200 to 300 tons of agave per day, which computes to, well, a hell of a lot of leftover fibers. Ford’s initial testing shows that the eco-friendly plastic made from agave looks good enough and is strong enough to be used for things like coin dishes, wiring harnesses, storage bins, and even things like cup holders, fuse boxes, and HVAC units.

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Why it Matters

You Won't Believe What Ford Wants To Make Car Parts From
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While we’re really just talking about some leftover plant fibers that are normally used for compost, this is actually a pretty big deal. It will cut down Ford’s dependency on fossil fuels pretty dramatically. Ford may not be able to use the material for all plastics, but if it can be used for things like HVAC units, it can be used for plastic body parts, and just about any plastic retainer that you can find on a Ford F-150, Ford Focus, or any other vehicle that manufacturer produces. For reference, Ford produced 2,493,918 vehicles in 2013, which means Ford could be making a lot of agave-derived plastics in the near future.

Press Release

Ford Motor Company is teaming up with Jose Cuervo® to explore the use of the tequila producer’s agave plant byproduct 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 efficiently employ discarded materials and fibers, while potentially reducing the use of petrochemicals and light-weighting 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 fibers 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 fibers.

“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 No. 1-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 that have been handed down generation through generation.

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 fiber, cellulose, wood, coconut fiber and rice hulls.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 5 billion metric tons of agricultural biomass waste is produced annually. A byproduct of agriculture, the supply of materials is abundant and often underutilized. Yet the materials can be relatively low cost, and can help manufacturers to offset the use of glass fibers and talc for more sustainable, lightweight products.

“There are about 400 pounds of plastic on 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. It is work that I’m really proud of, and it could have broad impact across numerous industries.”

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