Ford Motor Company said this morning that it plans to develop a recycled material using the waste of another U.S.-based giant: the H.J. Heinz company. If the project is successful, you may some day see the stems, skin, and otherwise unused tomato parts from ketchup production in your car. Ford is currently in the early stages of exploring how to turn the byproducts of ketchup into composite materials used to make wiring brackets, or a storage bin.
Ellen Lee, Ford’s technical expert in plastics research, tells Popular Science that as a material source, tomatoes can be a bit problematic—they lack some properties that help in stiffness, and like other natural fibers, tomato fibers don’t always compact as well to feed into equipment. But the team is working with other material suppliers who work with natural fibers to develop ideas on how to handle these hurdles.
About 14 years ago, the research team at Ford began looking into this larger field of developing and integrating more recyled and plant-based materials in vehicles (using ingredients such as coconut, recycled cotton, rice hulls, and soy). Right now, Lee says that the team is at the early end of development, having validated some initial feasibility of the concept.