The Ford Motor Company has accumulated a laundry list of renewable materials for its vehicles, including soy, castor, wheat, kenaf, cellulose, wood, coconut, and rice, and now it looks like the agave plant is getting a star turn. In a newly announced partnership with the iconic tequila brand Jose Cuervo, Ford is testing agave fiber for use as a bioplastic in auto parts.
Ford And Renewable Car Parts
Ford has been on the hunt for renewable car parts at least since the 1940s, when the company showcased a “soybean car” paneled entirely in a lightweight resin-soybean fiber composite. The ambitious effort resulted in a car that weighed about 1,000 pounds, only half the weight of a similar car made with steel panels.
Ford’s current efforts have been a little more restrained but the goal is to replace about 400 pounds of fossil derived plastics per car with renewable materials that are equally or more durable while costing less.
Bioplastics also offer the potential for weighing less than the parts they replace, so the benefits to the manufacturer can include a saving on shipping and handling. That ripple effect also extends to consumers in the form of improved fuel efficiency and improved battery range.
Another bottom line consideration is supply chain predictability and security. Things aren’t getting any less complex in the area of global geopolitics. It looks like Ford is determined to reinforce its US supply chain by moving into a more diverse roster of materials, some of which can be sourced domestically from non-food crops or from the inedible agricultural waste of food crops.
Many of Ford’s sustainable materials have been finding their way into invisible parts of a vehicle (you might even get some dandelion rubber in your tires some day), and that seems to be the plan for agave fiber. Don’t look for agave fiber on your dashboard any time soon — so far Ford is looking at wiring harnesses, HVAC units, and storage bins.
Jose Cuervo Loans Agave To The Renewable Bioplastic Cause
This isn’t Jose Cuervo’s first dip into the ag waste reclamation field. Aside from using some of its ag waste for compost, the company makes leftover fiber available to artisans for crafts and paper-making. A few years ago the company also made a big splash by contributing to the first ever agave surfboard.
The company’s overall sustainability strategy is not as well defined as Ford’s, though some conservation tactics may have rubbed off from its former association with Diageo.
Ford’s high profile relationships with other corporate sustainability leaders, most notably Coca-Cola, could also have a stimulating green effect on Casa Cuervo (that’s the company behind the Jose Cuervo brand).
So…What Is Kenaf?
If kenaf doesn’t ring a bell, join the club — we had to look that one up. It’s a tropical plant related to cotton that looks like bamboo, commonly used as a replacement for wood pulp in paper making. Back in 2002, the USDA got all excited about growing it in the continental US (specifically, Texas) for use as a sustainable car parts material.
The idea was to use kenaf fiber in the insulation that’s meant to cut down on road noise, as a replacement for petro-materials like polyester and polypropylene.
Ford took the kenaf ball and ran with it. In 2012, the company introduced renewable kenaf fiber in the door bolsters of its new Escape, replacing a petroleum-based material. According to Ford, the switch would reduce its use of petro-resin by 300,000 pounds annually.
And…What’s Up With Texas?
If you caught that thing about growing kenaf in Texas, you may be on to something. Long known as the epicenter of US fossil fuel development, lately the Lone Star state has been carving out a comfortable spot for itself in the sparkling green future.
The state’s role as a hotspot for bioplastic crops like kenaf (and agave, for that matter) is only just beginning to emerge, but it is way ahead of the pack in the wind energy field.
Texas is also getting quite serious about solar + storage, one standout example being a project designed to interconnect a longstanding “electricity island” in the state.
Another area of focus is algae biofuel R&D through the Texas A&M AgriLife program. We were just noticing that the US Energy Department has been doubling down funding for algae biofuel projects, so stay tuned.
Images via Ford Motor Company.
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