Auto Tech

Ford and Heinz want to cook up car parts from tomatoes

Heinz sure has a lot of extra tomato skins kicking around. The condiment company and Ford explore turning those skins into bioplastics.

Ford and Heinz hope to harness the power of tomatoes. Ford

Ketchup and Mustangs may seem like unlikely bedfellows, but they may someday have an ingredient in common: tomatoes. Ford Motor Company and the H.J. Heinz Company are working on turning tomato fibers into sustainable bioplastics that could be used to manufacture car parts.

Ford is particularly interested in using the bioplastics for wiring brackets and storage bins inside vehicles.

"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, a Ford plastics research technical specialist, in a statement.

Heinz squeezes ketchup out of over 2 million tons of tomatoes annually. That means a whole lot of stems, seeds, and skins are left over from the process. The work to turn those into bioplastics is in the very early phases, but success would help Ford in its goal to reduce reliance on petroleum-based plastics in its cars.

The use of plants in plastics isn't new. Corn-based plastics often appear in the form of to-go cups, for example. Ford has already introduced some alternative materials into its vehicles, including electrical cowl brackets filled with rice hulls, console components reinforced with cellulose fibers, and soy-foam cushions.

What would be really cool would be a Heinz-themed Ford Fiesta. Instead of a door lock, it should have a little embossed "57" on the handle. Thump it with the side of your fist and the car opens up. It should also have a built-in ketchup dispenser and perhaps a portable deep fryer to whip up some french fries on demand. I'm not sure if this is the weirdest car concept ever, or simply the most delicious.