Ford eyes tequila byproduct for eco car parts

Drinking and driving may be a terrible idea, but Ford is looking at giving its cars a shot of tequila – or, at least, what's left over when Jose Cuervo has had its way. The automaker and the drinks company are exploring how bioplastics produced from what's left over of the agave plant distilled to make tequila could result in more environmental friendly components in future vehicles.

Tequila is made from the central portions of the agave plant, which is first roasted, then ground up, and finally has its juices extracted. That liquid goes on to be distilled into the alcoholic drink, while the fibers that remain are used in composting and to make paper.

Ford's idea, though, is to repurpose the biomaterials as an alternative to petrochemical-based plastics.

"There are about 400 pounds of plastic on a typical car," Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader in the company's sustainability research department explains. While not all of that could be replaced by an agave-based bioplastic, the material's durability and "aesthetic qualities" do give it a potential role both in the cabin and elsewhere.

Ford's first tests include using the material in HVAC units and storage bins, as well as for wiring harnesses.

It's not just an environmental issue: your future Ford could end up more efficient in the process, too. Since the bioplastic is lighter than existing, petrochemical-based plastic, the overall curb weight of the car can be reduced, and thus less power needed for the same performance.

Extreme lightweighting is something Ford has been exploring in depth over the past years, including switching its steel-bodied trucks like the F-150 and the recently-unveiled 2017 F-Series Super Duty to aluminum, while also experimenting with composites, carbon fiber, and other materials in its 2014 Lightweight Concept.

Jose Cuervo grows millions of agave plants each year, with each taking at least seven years to reach harvest-ready stage. It's a fraction of what's said to be 5 billion metric tons of agricultural biomass waste produced annually.

Ford is no stranger to biomaterials, mind. Existing cars in the automaker's line-up already rely in part on soy foam, castor oil, wheat straw, kenaf fiber, cellulose, wood, coconut fiber, and rice hulls for various components

Earlier this year, meanwhile, it announced it would use carbon dioxide to make plastics and foam, as part of a goal of making a 600 million pound reduction in petroleum use each year.