(Source: Heinz Foods)
Tomato fibers will be used to make bio-based plastics

As the cost of fossil fuels rises, it's become increasingly common to see plant-based or recycled materials used in the automotive industry.  Back in 2008 at the North American International Auto Show, Honda Motor Comp., Ltd. (TYO:7267) was showing off seat cushion foams it had made from corn byproducts.   General Motors Comp.'s (GM) fleet today uses between 5 and 10 percent recycled plastics.
Now Ford Motor Comp. (F) is expanding on an intriguing partnership it hopes will set it apart from its rivals' efforts.  It's announced a partnership with the Pittsburgh, Penn.-based H. J. Heinz Company to make use of dried tomato fibers in its upcoming vehicles.
Explains Ford in a press release:

Researchers at Ford and Heinz are investigating the use of tomato fibers in developing sustainable, composite materials for use in vehicle manufacturing. 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.

Heinz is estimated to be America's #1 ketchup maker, with more than 50 percent market share.  Annually the company boasts:
  • 2 million tons of tomatoes used annually to make ketchup
  • 250 million pounds of ketchup shipped annually to the U.S. (2006)
  • ~570 million pounds of ketchup shipped annually worldwide
  • 650 million bottles of ketchup sold annually
  • 11 billion single-serve packets of ketchup shipped annually
All those tomatoes makes a whole lot of ketchup, but it also adds up to a lot of waste byproduct.  Heinz typically discards the stems, seeds, and peels during the ketchup-making process.

Heinz Ketchup
Found in 1869, Heinz today sells its ketchup in 200 countries and territories. [Image Source: AP]

This is not the pair's first tie-up.  Ford and Heinz have been working together with The Coca-Cola Comp. (KO), Nike Inc. (NKE), and The Procter & Gamble Comp. (PG) to come up with biodegradable plastics made from the compounds in tomato waste.

Vidhu Nagpal, an associate director of packaging and R&D at Heinz, comments about the efforts to turn his company's waste into valuable plastics:

We are delighted that the technology has been validated.  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.

Ellen Lee, a plastics researcher at Ford adds:

We are exploring whether this food processing byproduct makes sense for an automotive application.  Our goal is to develop a strong, lightweight material that meets our vehicle requirements, while at the same time reducing our overall environmental impact.

Ford F-150
Ford vehicles, like the 2015 F-150 truck feature a variety of bio-based materials.

Ford currently offers eight "bio-based" materials in its production vehicles.  These include:
  • rice hulls as a filler for electrical cowl brackets
  • cellulose from timber industry for console plastic reinforcement
  • recycled cotton for seat and floor fabrics
  • soy foams for seats and head restraints
  • coconut-based composite materials
Ford is also eyeing using dandelions to produce some of the rubber in its vehicles.  It should be interesting to see how soon these tomato-plastics show good enough cost and performance to make their way into actual vehicles.

Source: Ford

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