Ford and canned food giant Heinz are investigating the use of tomato fibres left over from making ketchup to develop sustainable, composite materials for car parts.

The companies believe dried tomato skins, the by-product of more than 2m tons of tomatoes used to make Heinz Ketchup, could become wiring brackets or storage bins to hold coins and other small objects.

"We are exploring whether this food processing by-product makes sense for an automotive application," said Ellen Lee, plastics research technical specialist for Ford. "Our goal is to develop a strong, lightweight material that meets our vehicle requirements, while at the same time reducing our overall environmental impact."

Nearly two years ago, Ford began collaborating with Heinz, Coca-Cola, Nike and Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of a 100% plant-based plastic to be used to make everything from fabric to packaging with a lower environmental impact than petroleum-based packaging materials currently in use.

At Heinz, researchers were looking for innovative ways to recycle peels, stems and seeds from the tomatoes the company uses to produce its best-selling product, Heinz Ketchup.

"We are delighted that the technology has been validated," said Vidhu Nagpal, associate director, packaging R&D for Heinz. "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% plant-based plastics."