Tomato, tom-auto

By PLANT Staff   

Innovation & Technology Sustainability Automotive Manufacturing auto parts Automotive components automotive manufacturing Ford Ford Motor Co. Heinz Innovation tomato

Ford and Heinz form an unusual collaboration.


CLICK TO ENLARGE. From repurposed tomato skins to wiring brackets and storage bins. PHOTO: FORD MOTOR CO.

You may think the Ford Motor Co. and the H.J. Heinz Co. have little in common business-wise, but they have found a good reason to work together thanks to the garden-variety tomato.

They have developed a sustainable composite from repurposed tomato skins that Ford wants to use to reduce its dependence on petrochemical-based plastics in its cars.

This collaboration has been in the works since 2012, with Heinz and Ford validating the material’s durability for use in wiring brackets and storage bins.

“We are exploring whether this food processing by-product makes sense for an automotive application,” says Ellen Lee, plastics research technical specialist for Ford. “Our goal is to develop a strong, lightweight material that meets our vehicle requirements, while at the same time reducing our overall environmental impact.”


In recent years, Ford has increased its use of recycled non-metal and bio-based materials, such as cellulose fibre-reinforced console components and rice hull-filled electrical cowl brackets. The bio-based portfolio now includes eight materials in production including coconut-based composite materials, recycled cotton material for carpeting and seat fabrics, and soy foam seat cushions and head restraints.

The Ford and Heinz partnership is part of an effort that includes other companies such as Coca-Cola, Nike Inc. and Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of a 100% plant-based plastic for making everything from fabric to packaging with a lesser environmental impact than petroleum-based materials.

Heinz researchers, looking for innovative ways to recycle and repurpose peels, stems and seeds from the more than 2 million tons of tomatoes the company uses annually to produce its famous ketchup, are delighted the technology has been validated.
“We’re in the very early stages of research, and many questions remain, but we’re excited about the possibilities this could produce,” said Vidhu Nagpal, associate director, packaging R&D for Heinz.

You say tomato. They say tom-auto.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of PLANT.

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