Ireland's Publication for the refinishing & associated Industries

Future car parts could be made from olive trees

Olive trees bear a fruit that is consumed all over the world, as snacks, oil and tapenades. Now, Ford has explored using branches, twigs and leaves that are discarded during harvest for more sustainable auto parts.

The trial was conducted as part of the COMPOlive project that is committed to delivering environmental change in olive production, using biocomposites instead of plastic, and supporting the circular economy.

According to the project, using olive tree waste for automotive parts could both reduce the plastic used in such parts and support cleaner air in the local area by avoiding burning as a means of waste disposal.

Engineers produced prototype footrests and parts of the boot area using olive tree waste. Testing has shown the parts produced are both robust and durable with Ford now evaluating the process for mass use, to potentially help deliver the next wave of electric vehicles.

Inga Wehmeyer, project lead at Ford said: “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.

“The sustainable fibres create a unique surface appearance and would be directly visible to our customers.”

For the trial, the waste materials were sourced from olive groves in Andalusia, Spain, the region with the highest production of olive oil in the world.

First, engineers at Ford’s European headquarters in Cologne, Germany, used simulation technology to test the usability of olive trees in terms of durability, strength, and mouldability. They were then able to go ahead with manufacturing prototypes.

Consisting of 40 per cent fibres and 60 per cent recycled polypropylene plastic, the substance was heated and injection moulded into the shape of the selected part.

Thomas Baranowski, injection moulding expert stated: “In order to get the mix just right, we had to experiment with different ratios of waste material and polypropylene.

“It was hard work, but it ultimately enabled us to produce a material that shows no compromise in strength, durability, or flexibility.”