Researchers at Ford and H.J. Heinz Company are exploring to use tomato fiber to develop a more sustainable bioplastic material for vehicles.
Specifically, dried tomato skins could become the wiring brackets in a Ford vehicle or the storage bin a Ford customer uses to hold coins and other small objects.
Ford researchers are testing the material’s durability for potential use in vehicle wiring brackets and storage bins.
If they are successful in developing a new more sustainable composite, this could reduce the use of petrochemicals in manufacturing and the impact of vehicles on the environment.
“We are exploring whether this food processing by-product 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.”
Using food waste creativity
Nearly two years ago, Ford began collaborating with Heinz, The Coca-Cola Company, Nike Inc. and Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of a 100% 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.
Researchers at Heinz 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 Heinz Ketchup.
“We are delighted that the technology has been validated,” said Vidhu Nagpal, associate director, packaging research and development 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% plant-based plastics.”
Using recycled non-metal, bio-based materials in automotive
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, the company has increased its use of recycled non-metal and bio-based materials.
With cellulose fiber-reinforced console components and rice hull-filled electrical cowl brackets introduced in the last year, its 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.