Using plants to make plastics is an idea that’s been around for a while. Henry Ford produced an experimental car with a soybean plastic exterior in 1941.
Now, 75 years later, Ford is looking to make car parts out of another plant, a plant that’s best known for being an ingredient in Tequila.
Tequila comes from the agave plant and Ford is now turning leftover agave fiber into a plastic product. That's after Jose Cuervo gets what it needs from the plant.
Debbie Mielewski, Ford’s senior technical leader for sustainability research, said this leftover material is generally burned or put into a landfill when unused.
“So we’ve been taking it and making it into very small particles to put into plastic parts for potential Ford vehicles,” she said.
Ford isn’t sure exactly where in cars this material could end up, but wire harnesses, storage bins, and trim are potential places.
She said Ford is considering using the fiber in trim, because it makes plastic attractive.
“When you put the agave fiber into the plastic, it sort of turns the whole thing a caramel color – very pleasant-looking, similar to wood trim in a vehicle,” Mielewski said.
This isn’t the only recycled product Ford is working with currently. Amidst several other recycled materials, Ford uses soy beans in the seats of all of its North American-built cars and recycled denim and t-shirt cuttings to help with sound absorption and insulation.
“Every time we use a plant, we conserve some of that limited petroleum,” Mielewski said. “I love that. But also, when you use a plant, the plant takes in carbon dioxide while it’s growing, so we’re actually consuming carbon dioxide, reducing our environmental footprint on the planet by using a plant.”
She said another benefit is these plant materials are lighter than traditional plastics… who knew tequila could help fuel economy.
Debbie Mielewski is Ford’s senior technical leader for sustainability research.