Making vehicle components from tomato skins

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Here’s a weird one: how about turning the peels and stems of tomatoes shed during the ketchup production process into light vehicle wiring harnesses and storage bins?

“We are exploring whether this food processing byproduct makes sense for an automotive application,” noted Ellen Lee, plastics research technical specialist for Ford Motor Co. “Our goal is to develop a strong, lightweight material that meets our vehicle requirements, while at the same time reducing our overall environmental impact.”

How about them apples? I mean … er … tomatoes?

Ford said it began collaborating with Heinz, the Coca-Cola Company, Nike Inc. and Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of a 100% plant-based plastic for making everything from fabric to packaging, with an eye to creating materials with a far lower environmental impact than petroleum-based components currently in use.

Heinz got interested in this effort because its researchers keep looking for ways to recycle and repurpose peels, stems and seeds from the more than two million tons of tomatoes the company uses annually to produce that staple of American dinner tables and restaurants: Ketchup.

"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,” noted Vidhu Nagpal, associate director for packaging research and development at Heinz.

With 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 use, including: coconut-based composite materials, recycled cotton material for carpeting and seat fabrics, plus soy foam seat cushions and head restraints.

You can’t get much “greener” than that now can you?

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