DEARBORN, Mich. (KCBS) — In an effort to find lighter renewable materials, Ford announced a partnership on Tuesday with Heinz to research the use of tomato fibers to make car parts.
While ketchup giant Heinz had the problem of unwanted skins, stems and seeds discarded from the 2 million tons of tomatoes it uses each year, Ford was attempting developing a fully plant-based plastic.
Now, the two companies are working together to help solve each others’ problems, with a new plan to research how those discarded tomato bits could be turned into a bio-plastic for Ford’s cars.
The research is described to be in the very early stages but the companies said they envision a tomato-based material that could be used for everything from wiring brackets to storage bins for holding coins.
Dr. Ellen Lee, who is the senior technical leader with the Ford biomaterials team in Dearborn, told KCBS that there already parts that are made natural materials.
“There are some plastics where the plastic part itself is made from a renewable source, for example—castor oil. But we are also using natural fibers, for example—cellulose from wood to reinforce plastics for structural components that we’re using in our vehicles,” she said.
The process includes taking the dried, ground tomato waste, combing it with a polypropylene and then cooking it.
Ford is also partnering with Coca-Cola, Nike and Procter & Gamble to help create more plant-based plastics to make lighter, stronger materials.
That is why, Lee said, researchers are focusing their efforts on natural fiber composites which our lighter than reinforced plastics are currently used.
“That really helps us out in reducing our carbon footprint especially because the weight reduction helps us save fuel economy,” Lee said.
LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW WITH DR. ELLEN LEE: