Tomatoes and cars are not generally known to have a common union with another, but research being conducted at Ford Motor Co. and H.J. Heinz Co. are seeing different possibilities. Researchers at both companies are collaborating with new, innovative ideas to successfully integrate the use of tomato fibers in developing renewable, synthesized materials for automobile manufacturing. For example, the fibers in a dried tomato skin could be turned into a storage bin for coins, or the same material could be implemented into wiring brackets in the same Ford vehicle.
Dr. Ellen Lee (Ford’s plastics research technical specialist) said, “We are exploring whether this food processing byproduct makes sense for an automotive application. Our goal is to develop a strong, lightweight material that meets our vehicle requirements, while at the same time reducing our overall environmental impact.”
Collaboration with Ford, Heinz, The Coca-Cola Company, Nike Inc., and Procter & Gamble began almost two years ago in the hopes of creating an entirely organic plastic material to replace the current petrochemicals that are used in plastics today. Everything from packaging to fabric in the car would drastically have decreased negative impact on the environment than petroleum-based packaging currently in use.
Lead researchers at Heinz turned to Ford during their attempt to recycle byproducts of their famous ketchup production, including stems, seeds, and peels. Research of innovative re-purposing of these components of tomatoes begun with the fact that Heinz uses 2 million tons of tomatoes each year for ketchup production.
“We are delighted that the technology has been validated. 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% plant-based plastics,” said Vidhu Nagpal, associate director, packaging R&D for Heinz.
Ford’s global sustainability strategy of reducing, reusing, and recycling is used to decrease the company’s damage to the environment while also boosting the development of fuel-efficiency in each vehicle they create. In the last few years, Ford’s use of recycled materials, like nonmetal and bio-based materials, has drastically increased as the company’s bio-based technology now has eight different materials in use, including “cellulose fiber-reinforced console components and rice hull-filled electrical cowl brackets.”
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