Blue Oval, Ketchup King Seek Tomato Bliss

Ford and Heinz tie one on.

While some cars may be called lemons, a term no automaker wants ascribed to their products, future buyers may call one or more Ford products a tomato. That’s right, as in the nightshade family of fruit (or is it a vegetable?) that is a staple of our diets.

The Ford Motor Company (blue oval) and ketchup king H.J. Heinz Company are teaming up to see how tomatoes might be used in automotive development. Specifically, Heinz-supplied tomato fiber may someday be used as a bio-plastic material in select Ford vehicles.

Repurposing Tomato Fiber

Ford and Heinz researchers believe that they are on to something special as tomato fiber has the potential to be used to make storage bins in a Ford vehicle, one suitable for holding coins and other small objects. Developing wiring brackets are another possibility that Ford is exploring.

“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.”

Ford Heinz Ketchup Tomato

Ford’s collaboration with other nonautomotive titans has been going on for some time. Its partnership with Heinz goes back two years and probably much longer than that when you take into consideration the ketchup packets used in Ford cafeterias the world over.

Besides Heinz, Ford is also collaborating with Nike, Inc., Proctor Gamble and the Coca-Cola Company to produce 100 percent plant-based plastic, in an effort to replace petroleum-derived plastics used widely in production today. Fabrics, packaging and an assortment of other materials and products may soon achieve sustainability nirvana, a move that would allow Ford and its partners to advance their respective green credentials.

Heinz Hands Ford a Tomato

Heinz approached Ford in a bid to find ways to make use of tomato waste, specifically the seeds, stems and peels that are extracted from the two million tons of tomatoes the company produces each year. And that is for its ketchup product only.

“We are delighted that the technology has been validated,” said Vidhu Nagpal, associate director, packaging RD 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.”

Ford, like many other manufacturers across all industries, is looking for ways to become more sustainable. It is an effort that can save companies money, reduce waste and shine the light on a practice that has been growing steam in recent years. Besides, who wants to carry the blame that their company melted the polar ice caps?

Soy, Rice and Cellulose Too

Ford’s pursuit of petroleum options can be seen in other products. In 2010, the automaker started to use soy-based foam seat cushions with its Ford Fusion Hybrid.

More recently, Ford began to make use of rice hull-filled electrical cowl brackets and cellulose fiber-reinforced console components, among eight bio-based products it says are now in production.

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Counsel Advises Prudent Development of Natural Resources

Chart courtesy of the Ford Motor Company.

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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