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Ford and Heinz collaborate on sustainable materials for vehicles; tomato fiber for bio-plastics

10 June 2014

Researchers at Ford and Heinz are investigating the use of tomato fibers in developing sustainable, composite materials for use in vehicle manufacturing. Specifically, the tomato fibers would reinforce the overall plastic components and would replace other traditional petroleum-based materials which the Ford research team has proven in several other applications.

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.

—Dr. Ellen Lee, plastics research technical specialist for Ford

Nearly two years ago, Ford began collaborating with Heinz, The Coca-Cola Company, Nike Inc. and Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of a 100% plant-based plastic to be used to make everything from fabric to packaging and with a lower environmental impact than petroleum-based packaging materials currently in use. The companies are founding members of the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance.

At Heinz, researchers were looking for innovative ways to recycle and repurpose peels, stems and seeds from the more than two million tons of tomatoes the company uses annually to produce its best-selling product: Heinz Ketchup.

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.

—Vidhu Nagpal, associate director, packaging R&D for Heinz

In recent years, Ford has increased its use of recycled nonmetal and bio-based materials. 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. Other examples are coconut-based composite materials, recycled cotton material for carpeting and seat fabrics, and soy foam seat cushions and head restraints.

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