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Brief Published: 14 Jul 2014

Plastics from Tomatoes

Raw tomato pomace and processed tomato fibre pellets

Tomato pomace – the fibres from the fruit’s stem, skin, and seeds – is the latest bio-based material in the spotlight as a viable alternative to petroleum products in manufacturing.

US carmaker Ford announced in June that it has been working with global food brand Heinz for the past two years to find a way to create thermoplastics from the remains of the two million tonnes of tomatoes processed annually for Heinz ketchup.

Although the bioplastic isn’t ready for commercial use, Ford is particularly interested in it as an alternative to talc-reinforced composites in non-structural components like the trim and interior of vehicles, suggesting that it could be used for elements such as cup holders and wiring brackets.

Other companies that have dedicated resources to the project include Nike, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble, which are interested in using the pomace for fabrics and packaging.

Tomato-fibre-based materials are not only cheaper to manufacture than the petrochemical alternative; they can also be made faster and at lower temperatures. Additionally, the finished product weighs less, which can offer savings and boost sustainability as the vehicles manufactured with it may use less fuel.

Ford has been ramping up its experimentation with plant-fibre composites over the past year as it looks to materials other than recycled plastics, nylon, yarn and denim to meet its sustainability goals. In December 2013, it introduced cellulose-reinforced polypropylene in the 2014 Lincoln MKX as a replacement for fibreglass in the car’s central console armrest. Ford has also used coconuts, soy, rice hulls, wheat straw, kenaf and hemp fibres in manufacturing. 

For more on the evolution of plastics, see our Materials Focus Rationale Repurpose, and our fashion-focused Fashionable Synthetics report. Also look out for our comprehensive report on pioneering forms and applications of plastics, publishing later this month.