Ford Developing Plastic Made from Tomato Waste
DEARBORN, MI – It might not seem like tomatoes and cars have much in common, but Ford Motor Company and Heinz are working together to develop sustainable materials for vehicles.
Heinz researchers have been looking for innovative ways to recycle and repurpose peels, stems and seeds from the more than two million tons of tomatoes it uses to make Heinz Ketchup.
“We are delighted that the technology has been validated,” said Vidhu Nagpal, Associate Director, 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.”
“We are exploring whether this food processing byproduct makes sense for an automotive application,” said 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.”
The tomato refuse could be used to make lighter plastics than what is currently available. To get the fruit’s refuse ready for molding, the fibers are ground and dried. Then molten plastic is added as a binder.
Even with current samples containing about 20% tomato, Debbie Mielewski, a leader in the R&D team, tells Smithsonian.com, “We’re still talking about a ton of value, because millions of applications for this could pop up.”
This isn’t the first use of renewable plastic used by the company. Smithsonian.com reports that the lab’s first renewable plastic launched on the 2008 Mustang using a soy-based polyurethane foam in the seat cushion and headrest. Ford says that all of its domestic vehicles use the foam in the seat cushions now and 75% of them have it in the headrest.
For now, the lab is putting the tomato-infused plastic to the test to ensure it will meet current vehicle safety requirements. After testing, it would go through product development and be worked into Ford’s supply chain.