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Ford, Jose Cuervo working on plastic cocktail

Ford experiments with agave waste following tequila distillation

Published: July 31, 2016, 10:30 PM
Updated: August 9, 2016, 4:24 PM

Jose Cuervo Ford truck logo

Jose Cuervo tequila is hoping to find a good mix with Ford, but not in bars or even as PSAs about not drinking and driving, but rather in creating a plastic that can be used for auto parts.

Ford storage bin

The two are exploring the use of agave plant waste as a bioplastic material for interior and exterior components such as storage bins and wiring harnesses, which would help reduce overall vehicle weight and lessen the auto industry’s dependence on petrochemicals.

“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 material is currently undergoing durability and heat-resistance testing and the initial assessment suggests promise due to its durability, as well as aesthetic qualities.

Agave production

The plant is already extensively used following its 7-year lifecycle, with the heart roasted and ground to extract juices for tequila distillation, and a portion of the remaining plant fibres used for artisan crafts and paper production. Some of the waste is also composted.

“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. “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.”

Agave harvesting

The Jose Cuervo family has been making alcoholic beverages in the town of Tequila since the late 18th Century, starting with a mescal wine made from the succulent blue agave plant and then about 100 years later bottling the liquor for distribution (the first bottling of tequila). Like Ford, it is a family owned business that today is overseen by Juan-Domingo Beckmann, the great-great-great-grandson of company founder Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo.

The agave plant joins a stable of waste-plant-based products used by Ford — a list that also includes castor oil, wheat straw, kenaf fibre, cellulose, wood, coconut fibre and rice hulls. It is estimated that some 5 billion tonnes of agricultural biomass is produced annually in the use of plants in various applications. The waste is mostly underutilized and some is non compostable, leading manufacturers to look at the use of these fibrous materials to replace things such as talc and glass fibres (two of the main ingredients for plastic). Its use would also reduce costs, since much of it is, basically, garbage.

“There are about 400 pounds of plastic on a typical car,” concluded 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.”