Ford plays ketchup with future cars
In terms of fluid dynamics, tomato ketchup is fairly lethargic. Invert a bottle of Heinz sauce, and your arm will go numb before that gooey red condiment plops onto the plate – unless you shake the bottle or hammer the base with your palm. Outside salads, ketchup and chutney, the only other real use for tomatoes is hurling them at complete strangers during the La Tomatina festival in the Valencian town of Buñol, Spain in late August.
But there’s another way ketchup can help make future cars better – and that’s by using the bits left over from the manufacturing process to make auto parts. Over the past two years, Ford has been working with Heinz to develop car parts from dried tomato skins, and says the material can be used to make things like wiring brackets and storage bins.
It’s as simple as taking the left over bits, handing them to a boffin in a white coat, and voila! A saucy new Ford. Probably.
“We are exploring whether this food processing by-product makes sense for an automotive application,” said Ellen Lee, Ford plastics research specialist. “Our goal is to develop a strong, lightweight material that meets our vehicle requirements, while at the same time reducing our overall environmental impact.”
The company has also been working with Coca-Cola, Nike and Procter & Gamble to develop of a plant-based plastic to help reduce the petroleum-based materials currently in use. Researchers at Heinz have been keen to find a way that they could recycle peels, stems and seeds from the more than two million tonnes of tomatoes they use annually to produce its ketchup.
“We are delighted that the technology has been validated,” said Vidhu Nagpal, Heinz’s Research and Development associate director. “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 per cent plant-based plastics.”
The programme has been welcomed by conservation groups globally. When the programme was announced in 2012, Erin Simon, Senior Program Officer of Packaging for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said, “Fossil fuels like oil have significant impacts to the planet’s biodiversity, climate and other natural systems”.
“Sustainably managing our natural resources and finding alternatives to fossil fuels are both business and environmental imperatives. It’s encouraging to see these leading companies use their market influence to reduce dependence on petroleum-based plastics. We hope other companies will follow their lead.”