Companies explore using food processing byproducts in sustainable automotive applications.
Researchers at the automaker Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Michigan, and the consumer products company Heinz, Pittsburgh, are studying the use of tomato fibers in developing sustainable, composite materials for use in vehicle manufacturing. According to Ford, dried tomato skins could become the wiring brackets in a Ford vehicle or the storage bins for a vehicle.
“We are exploring whether this food processing byproduct makes sense for an automotive application,” says 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.”
Close to 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 looked for innovative ways to recycle and repurpose peels, stems and seeds from the more than 2 million tons of tomatoes the company uses annually to produce its Heinz ketchup.
“We are delighted that the technology has been validated,” says Vidhu Nagpal, associate director of packaging R&D 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-percent-plant-based plastics.”