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Ford turns olive waste into car parts

Engineers are redefining automotive sustainability by repurposing discarded by-products, writes SHERYL GOLDSTUCK.

If there’s one thing that strikes a chord for me, it’s the environment. I may be allergic to beestings, but I absolutely adore them for the role they play in nature.

So it was especially heartwarming for me to come across a case study that combines two of my passions: cars and protecting the environment. 

It turns out that Ford engineers are repurposing discarded olive tree branches, twigs, and leaves from global olive production to create robust and durable car parts. In the process, they are redefining automotive sustainability.

The initiative is a part of a project called COMPOlive, which as the name hints is instigating environmental change in olive production through the use of biocomposites instead of traditional plastics.

This process is linked directly to what is referred to as a circular economy, in which waste or by-product is circulated back into productive use. The automotive industry is not famous for its role in this economy, so it is fascinating to see how it is roping in olive trees.

A trial in Andalusia, Spain, the world’s leading producer of olive oil, is being conducted by engineers at Ford’s European headquarters in Cologne, Germany.

They have shown that it is possible to use discarded by-products to make prototype footrests and boot area parts that are robust and durable. Ford believes they also have the potential to revolutionise manufacturing for the next wave of electric vehicles.

“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,” says Inga Wehmeyer, project lead at Ford. “The sustainable fibres create a unique surface appearance and would be directly visible to our customers

“By utilising olive tree waste for auto parts, Ford aims to reduce the reliance on traditional petroleum-based raw materials, leading to a significant reduction in plastic use. Additionally, this initiative contributes to cleaner air in local areas by circumventing the need for burning olive waste as a disposal method.”

This isn’t Ford’s first foray into sustainable materials for cars. In the past it has also made soybean-based foam seats, post-consumer recycled materials, and recycled ocean plastic in various components.

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