When most people think of ketchup and cars (if they do at all), they’re probably just hoping to not spill any while they’re driving. But researchers at Ford and Heinz have something much cooler in mind — the companies announced today they are investigating the use of tomato fibers in developing bio-based composite materials for use in vehicle manufacturing. Specifically, dried tomato skins — now a waste product of the ketchup-making process — could become the wiring brackets or a storage bin used to hold coins and other small objects in a Ford vehicle.
Nearly two years ago, Ford began collaborating with Heinz, The Coca-Cola Company, Nike Inc. and Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of a 100 percent plant-based plastic to be used to make everything from fabric to packaging and with a lower environmental impact than petroleum-based packaging materials currently in use. Ford and Coke unveiled the fruits of their collaboration late last year – the first-ever interior fabric made from the same renewable material used to produce Coke’s PlantBottle packaging.
At Heinz, researchers were looking for innovative ways to recycle and repurpose peels, stems and seeds from the more than two million tons of tomatoes the company uses annually to produce its signature product, Heinz Ketchup. Leaders at Heinz turned to Ford.
“We are delighted that the technology has been validated,” said Vidhu Nagpal, associate director of packaging R&D for Heinz. “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 percent plant-based plastics.”
In recent years, Ford has increased its use of recycled nonmetal and bio-based materials. With cellulose fiber-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, and soy foam seat cushions and head restraints.