Ford and Heinz Relish Making Auto Parts From Tomatoes | Edmunds

Ford and Heinz Relish Making Auto Parts From Tomatoes


Just the Facts:
  • Ford and Heinz are collaborating to investigate the use of tomato fibers in the development of composite materials to be used in vehicle manufacturing.
  • Tomato skins and other Heinz by-products could be used to produce components that were formerly made from petroleum-based plastics.
  • Ford's global sustainability strategy has already resulted in vehicle parts made from such material as rice hulls, coconuts, soy and recycled cotton.

DEARBORN, Michigan — Ford and the H.J. Heinz Company announced Tuesday that they are collaborating to investigate the use of tomato fibers in the development of composite materials to be used in vehicle manufacturing.

Although at first auto parts and vegetable matter may appear to be an odd combination, Ford says that, for example, dried tomato skins could be turned into wiring brackets, coin holders or myriad other parts that were formerly made from petroleum-based plastics.

"We are exploring whether this food processing by-product makes sense for an automotive application," said Ellen Lee, plastics research technical specialist for Ford, in a statement. "Our goal is to develop a strong, lightweight material that meets our vehicle requirements, while at the same time reducing our overall environmental impact."

While Ford's goal was to find a sustainable replacement for plastic parts, Heinz was seeking uses for the peels, stems and seeds from the more than 2 million tons of tomatoes it uses every year for ketchup, sauces and numerous other products.

Noting that so far "the technology has been validated," Vidhu Nagpal, associate director of packaging R&D for Heinz, said: "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."

The collaboration builds on an alliance formed two years ago between Ford, Heinz, Coca-Cola, Nike and Procter & Gamble with the goal of developing ways to replace the plastics used by all five companies with 100 percent plant-based composite materials.

The partnership built upon the success of Coca-Cola's innovative packaging technology that incorporates plant material into soda bottles, lowering their environmental impact compared to traditional PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles. Heinz and Procter & Gamble also began using the technology for product packaging, while Nike started integrating plant-based composites into its athletic shoes.

In the meantime, Ford's global sustainability strategy has led to such innovations as cellulose fiber-reinforced console components, rice hull-filled electrical cowl brackets, coconut-based composite parts, recycled cotton material for carpeting and seat fabrics and soy-foam seat cushions and head restraints.

So maybe tomato-skin coin holders aren't such a big leap.

Edmunds says: We think the increased use of plant-based composites in auto parts has appeal.

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