Ford’s New Plastic Auto Parts Are Made From Olives


Ford Motor Company noted a milestone moment in the long race to make vehicle manufacturing more sustainable, the company announcedtoday. It has found a way to convert the waste from olive trees (branches, twigs and foliage), into auto part prototypes.

Not only does this reduce waste, the company found that the parts are durable enough for use in production vehicles, reducing the amount of plastic used under the sheetmetal.

The new technology was unveiled during an announcement of the automaker’s partnership with the COMPOlive project. The combination of forces is meant to show the usability of recycled and renewable materials.

The project has three goals: to change the management of pruning and enhance socio/economic aspects of the olive sector from an environmental perspective; to develop new fibers/biocomposites with a broad range of application to reduce fossil-based virgin plastic and to support the European Union’s plan to make the continent’s economy more circular.

Ford in an olive grove. Ford can reduce its plastic use in these parts by 40 percent.
Ford Motor Company

The waste materials were sourced from olive groves in Andalusia, Spain, which has the highest production of olive oil in the world. The prototype parts consisted of 40 percent olive tree fibers and 60 percent recycled polypropylene plastic. The substance is then heated and molded into the shape of the selected part.

That waste would normally be burned, meaning better air quality at harvest time, or stored, meaning it would have to transported to a collection location.

To figure out if the material would be usable it used material simulations at its European headquarters in Cologne, Germany. Once it approved of the moldability, strength and durability of the material it began creating prototype parts. For says it’s now evaluating the parts and processes for wider implementation.

Ford noted that this isn’t nearly the first time it found a way to use sustainable materials inside a vehicle. It created industry-first soybean-based foam seats and headrests, and used post-consumer recycled materials like yogurt cups for things like frunk inserts in the Ford Mustang Mach-E and recycled ocean plastic in clips in the Ford Bronco Sport.

“At Ford, we’re always looking for ways to become more sustainable, and sometimes inspiration can strike from the most unlikely places. In using the waste from olive trees, we have been able to substitute a significant amount of petroleum-based raw material in the interior parts. Sustainable fibers create a unique surface appearance and would be directly visible to our customers,” Inga Wehmeyer, project lead, said in a press release.

The project is part of Ford’s “The Road To Better” initiative to incorporate sustainable materials in its vehicles, transition more of its manufacturing to renewable, carbon free electricity, save water and reduce waste to zero.