You say tomato? Ford says tom-auto in eco parts quest


Auto maker Ford Motor is looking to add a new environmental option to its tool box. Tomatoes.

Ford said on Tuesday it was teaming up with ketchup maker Heinz, owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffett's holding company Berkshire Hathaway and U.S. investment firm 3G Capital, to look at using tomato fibers in car production.

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It is testing the use of dried tomato skins, a waste product from making Heinz's famous red sauce, to form part of wiring brackets or coin holders, hoping the use of more plant-based plastic over petroleum-based materials will reduce the environmental impact of car production.

"We're trying to make use of a by-product ... and get some renewable and recycled content into our vehicles, while at the same time reducing the weight," Ellen Lee, a research specialist at Ford Plastics, told Reuters.

Newly appointed Ford CEO Mark Fields, left, addresses the audience alongside Alan Mulally at the company's annual shareholders meeting in Wilmington, Del., May 8, 2014.
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Lee said the less-than-attractive appearance of the material meant it could so far potentially only be used for hidden parts, such as under-hood plastics and shields in the underbody, but the aim was to make it more pleasing to the eye in future.

Ford began working with Heinz, Coca-Cola, Nike and Procter & Gamble nearly two years ago to speed up the production of plant-based plastics.

Lee said aside from tomatoes, materials to be found in cars in the future could come from coconuts, the hard covering on grains of rice, dandelion roots and even trees, as part of innovative attempts to find sustainable alternatives.

—By Reuters