Cars and lots of tequila generally don’t make for a good match. On the other hand, it is good to learn that 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 use in Ford vehicles.


As the companies explain, 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 thereby lower energy consumption, while paring the use of petrochemicals and alleviating the impact of vehicle production on the environment, according to Ford.


“At Ford, we aim to reduce our impact on the environment,” says Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability research department. “We’re 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 it 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 some remnants. Now, as part of Jose Cuervo’s broader sustainability plan, the tequila maker also sends fibers to Ford, where they are chopped up and compounded into plastic.


The collaboration with Jose Cuervo is the latest example of what Ford calls the greening of its plastics through use of “environmental, plant-based materials.” The company began researching the use of sustainable materials in its vehicles in 2000. In 2008, Ford started using soy foam as a replacement for petroleum oil-based foams used in the seat cushions and headrests of its Mustang. Today, the company says it uses soy foam in seat cushions and headrests in every vehicle across its lineup in North America. In addition to soy foam, Ford says it uses seven other sustainable-based materials in its vehicles—castor oil, wheat straw, kenaf fiber, cellulose, wood, coconut fiber and rice hulls.


“There are about 400 pounds of plastic on a typical car,” says Mielewski. “Our job is to find the right place for a green composite like the one from the agave fibers to help our impact on the planet. It’s work that I’m really proud of, and it could have broad impact across numerous industries.”


Ford isn’t alone, of course, in its use of recycled materials. Indeed, most automakers use components that are made from recycled plastic, such as wheelwell liners, bumpers, and air and water baffles. Many also use seat fabrics produced from recycled water bottles.


In addition to Ford, there are a number of other automakers making use of bioplastics as well. For example, Edmunds reports that many Toyota cars have seat cushion material, radiator tanks and other components made from bioplastics produced from glycol from renewable sugar cane instead of petroleum-derived glycol. What’s more, the Honda Accord Hybrid and Accord Plug-In Hybrid use a proprietary biofabric in seat covers; the Hyundai Elantra has soy-based foam seat cushions; and the Kia Rio has a soy-based seat foam while the Soul EV uses cane- and cellulose-based bioplastics in door panels, headliners, seat fabrics, roof pillars and carpeting.


What are your thoughts on the growing use of bioplastics and recycled plastics in automobiles?