Spanish olive trees, source of automotive components.

Sustainable development

The remains of the olive harvest, which until now were burned, can be used to produce plastic parts.

Environmental protection and profitability may go hand in hand in a new initiative launched by car maker Ford, which is conducting research into using leftovers from olive harvesting to make parts for its cars.

The brand explored the possibility of using branches and leaves discarded during olive harvesting to produce more environmentally friendly car parts. The trial was carried out as part of the CompOlive project, which aims to find environmental improvements in olive production, using bio-based compounds instead of plastic and supporting a circular economy. Using olive tree waste to produce vehicle parts can reduce the amount of plastic used to produce these parts and help clean the air in the harvest area, avoiding incineration as a waste disposal method.

Engineers developed prototypes of footrests and torso parts from olive tree waste. Testing shows the parts are strong and durable, and Ford is evaluating their widespread use to help create the next wave of electric vehicles. For the tests, waste was obtained from olive groves in Andalusia, the region with the highest olive oil production in the world. Initially, engineers at Ford’s European headquarters in Cologne, Germany, used advanced modeling technology to evaluate the applicability of olive trees in terms of durability, strength and pliability. They then started making prototypes. To do this, the material, made up of 40% fiber and 60% recycled polypropylene plastic, was heated and poured into molds to shape the chosen product.

The CompOlive project, which ran between 2020 and 2023, had to adapt to travel and mobility restrictions imposed around the world during the pandemic. The project partners have not met in person for two and a half years.

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