Ford & Heinz Team Up To Put Tomatoes In Tomorrow's Autos

Tomato by-products in my new Ford? It's more likely than you think, or at least it will be once H.J. Heinz and Ford Motor Company realize their plan to recycle used tomato skins, stems and seeds into car components.

The project is part & parcel of Ford's global sustainability strategy and tomatoes aren't the first bio-based material the company has used to produce components. In fact, eight materials are already in production: coconut-based composites, recycled cotton, soy foam and rice hulls all help boost the company's global effort to lessen its environmental footprint.

You can soon make that nine: fortuitously, researchers at H.J. Heinz have been wracking their brains trying to find new ways to recycle the tomato peels, stems and seeds that are by-products of ketchup production. It's no small task; over two million tons of tomatoes go into Heinz Ketchup annually. The Sultans of  Sauce at Heinz heard about what Ford was up to and found the company was very receptive to exploring the possibilities.

“We are delighted that the technology has been validated,” said 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% plant-based plastics.”

Over at Ford, researchers were building on a long tradition of sustainable plastics dating back to the early 1930s. By 1935, according to the SoyInfo Center, a bushel (60 pounds) of soybeans processed into paint and molded plastic parts was going into every Ford car. 

Fast-forward eight decades and we find Ford hasn't lost touch with its roots – so to speak. “We are exploring whether this food processing byproduct makes sense for an automotive application,” said Ellen Lee (above), 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.”

Though no firm date has been broached for the debut of tomato-based plastics in Ford vehicles, the company and H.J. Heinz are continuing to explore the use of tomato by-products in developing sustainable bio-plastic materials suitable for real-world use.

While the new bio-based materials are expected to appear first in wiring brackets and storage bins, plans are afoot to develop other new and more sustainable composites that could reduce the use of petrochemicals in manufacturing and as a result, reduce the impact of cars, trucks and other vehicles on the environment. Here's hoping Heinz's tomato suppliers harvest bumper (ahem) crops in the years to come! (via The Presurfer; images via Autoguide, Financial Post, Detroit Free Press, and Car and Driver)