Dried tomato skins could become the wiring brackets in a Ford vehicle or the storage bin a customer uses to hold coins and other small objects.
“We are exploring whether this food processing by-product makes sense for an automotive application,” said Ellen Lee, Ford plastics research specialist. “Our goal is to develop a strong, lightweight material that meets our vehicle requirements, while at the same time reducing our overall environmental impact.”
Nearly two years ago, Ford began collaborating with Heinz, The Coca-Cola Company, Nike Inc. and Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of a plant-based plastic to help reduce the petroleum-based materials currently in use.
At Heinz, researchers were looking for innovative ways to recycle peels, stems and seeds from the more than two million tons of tomatoes the company uses annually to produce its best-selling product, Heinz Ketchup.
“We are delighted that the technology has been validated,” said Vidhu Nagpal, Heinz’s Research and Development associate director. “Although we are in the very early stages of research, and many questions remain, we are excited about the possibilities this could produce for both Heinz and Ford, and the advancement of sustainable 100 per cent plant-based plastics.”
Ford’s commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle is part of the company’s global sustainability strategy to lessen its environmental footprint, while accelerating development of fuel-efficient vehicle technology worldwide. In recent years, Ford has increased its use of recycled non-metal and bio-based materials. With cellulose fibre-reinforced console components and rice hull-filled electrical cowl brackets introduced in the last year, Ford’s bio-based portfolio now includes eight materials in production. Other examples are coconut-based composite materials, recycled cotton material for carpeting and seat fabrics, plus soy foam seat cushions and head restraints.