News Column

Ford, Heinz May Make Car Parts Out of Tomatoes

June 11, 2014

Alisa Priddle, Detroit Free Press

Tomatoes (file photo)
Tomatoes (file photo)

June 11--Ford and Heinz have a juicy idea: They are exploring using tomato fibers for car parts.

The corporate giants are collaborating on replacing petrochemicals in plastic parts with sustainable materials made of tomato fibers. They are testing the fibers' durability for use in vehicle wiring brackets and storage bins.

The bio-friendly composite uses dried tomato skins.

"We are exploring whether this food processing byproduct makes sense for an automotive application," said 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 an effort started almost two years ago. Ford is working with Heinz, Coca-Cola, Nike and Procter & Gamble on research into plant-based plastics for car parts.

Heinz researchers approached Ford when they were looking to recycle peels, stems and seeds from 2 million tons of tomatoes used annually to make ketchup.

"We are delighted that the technology has been validated," said Vidhu Nagpal, a Heinz packaging director. "Although we are in the very early stages, and many questions remain, we are excited about the possibilities this could produce and the advancement of sustainable 100% plant-based plastics."

Ford founder Henry Ford experimented in the use of soybeans. The automaker continues to recycle nonmetal and bio-based materials.

There are now eight bio-based materials in various areas of its vehicles, including cellulose fiber-reinforced console components and rice hull-filled electrical cowl brackets introduced in the last year. Ford also has coconut-based composite materials, recycled cotton for carpeting and seat fabrics, and soy foam seat cushions and head restraints.

Other automakers also have bio-solutions. More than a decade ago, Daimler harvested coconuts in Brazil's rainforests for headliners and other parts in its Freightliner trucks built in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Contact Alisa Priddle: 313-222-5394 or Follow her on Twitter @AlisaPriddle


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Original headline: Ford and Heinz exploring car parts made of tomato fiber

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Source: (c)2014 the Detroit Free Press

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