DEARBORN — Ford Motor Co. has been interested in sustainable materials going all the way back to Henry Ford’s pioneering experiments with soy-based auto parts.
Now, researchers at Ford say they’re working with H.J. Heinz Co. on using tomato fibers to develop sustainable composite materials for use in vehicles.
Specifically, dried tomato skins could become materials for wiring brackets or storage bins on future Ford vehciles.
“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.”
Nearly two years ago, Ford began collaborating with Heinz, The Coca-Cola Co., 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.
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 best-selling product, Heinz ketchup. Heinz turned to Ford.
Said Vidhu Nagpal, associate director of packaging research and development at 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.”
Ford said it has increased its use of recycled nonmental and bio-based materials in recent years, including 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.