Tomato skins could be the new plastic for cars
A tomato could one day be Ford tough.
Researchers from H.J. Heinz Co. and Ford Motor Co. are studying the possibility of using tomatoes to make plastic parts for cars.
“Our goal is to develop a strong, lightweight material that meets our vehicle requirements, while at the same time reducing our overall environmental impact,” said Ellen Lee, plastics research technical specialist for the Detroit automaker.
Heinz and Ford, the latter whose “Built Ford Tough” tagline has sold trucks to generations of consumers, are hoping to develop composite material from tomato skins left over from the foodmaker's ketchup manufacturing. The material could replace the petroleum-based plastics used for wiring brackets, storage bins or other interior parts in automobiles, the companies said Tuesday in a statement.
“The technology looks promising,” Heinz spokesman Michael Mullen said. “At Heinz, we know tomatoes are good for people; now Ford will see if tomatoes can make its vehicles even more environmentally friendly.”
While it may seem far-fetched, plant fibers are showing up in a variety of plastic alternatives as researchers explore ways to reduce the use of petroleum.
In 2011, Heinz started packaging ketchup in the PlantBottle, a plastic container made with 30 percent plant material that was developed by the Coca-Cola Co.
Both plants and oil contain carbon atoms, which are the building blocks of plastics, said Newell Washburn, a professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University.
So far it is more expensive to produce plastics from plants because there are more steps involved, he said. But many companies are dedicating significant research to replacing petroleum with plant material for plastic production.
“There's a lot more momentum in this direction than people realize,” he said.
Plant fibers have been used as a reinforcing additive in composite plastics for years, said Eric Beckman, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.
Flax and hemp are sources of plant fibers used in plastics, he said. “It's fun to think of tomatoes as part of it.”
Heinz said in the statement that it turned to the auto company while searching for ways to recycle the peels, stems and seeds from more than 2 million tons of tomatoes it uses each year to produce its ketchup.
“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 percent plant-based plastics,” said Vidhu Nagpal, associate director of packaging research at Heinz.
Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or email@example.com.
Add Alex Nixon to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Home price gains slow for 6th-straight month
- Tech giants lead rush for profits in foreign countries
- GNC revenue, sales drop, but vitamin retailer says plan in place
- Hotels, restaurants lead job additions in Pittsburgh region
- U.S. Steel’s 2Q loss beats analysts’ estimates
- China investigates Microsoft in monopoly case
- Market in neutral, awaiting economic news
- Fed to keep cards close to the vest
- Jimmy Dean moves beyond breakfast
- Consumer confidence jumps to 90.9 in July
- Hiring in shale industry shifts to engineering, construction workers