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​No lemons here: Ford plans car parts made from tomatoes

Ketchup giant Heinz had the problem of unwanted skins, stems and seeds discarded from the 2 million tons of tomatoes it uses each year. For Ford (F), the issue was developing a fully plant-based plastic.

Now, the two companies are working together to help solve each others' problems, with a new plan to research how those discarded tomato bits could be turned into a bio-plastic for Ford's cars, the companies said on Tuesday.

While the research is described by R&D executive Vidhu Nagpal as "in the very early stages," the companies said they envision a tomato-based material that could be used for everything from wiring brackets to storage bins for holding coins. But that doesn't mean Ford cars will end up smelling like marinara sauce: The automaker has a panel of people who will sniff components to make sure they're free of unwanted smells, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes.

The plan is the result of a two-year collaboration between Heinz, Coca-Cola, Nike and Procter & Gamble on development of a purely plant-based plastic. The idea was to create a more environmentally friendly product than petroleum-based plastics, the companies said.

Heinz approached the group about a year ago to ask if there was a way to use the waste from its ketchup manufacturing process, the Post-Gazette notes.

So how does it work? After the tomato waste is dried and then ground, it's combined with a polypropylene and cooked, according to the publication. The downside is that it's not as strong as other plastics, although it still has its uses, such as for storage bins.

"It can't replace a structural composite," Ford researcher Ellen Lee told the newspaper.

Ford has relied on other bio-based materials for its automobiles, such as cellulose fiber-reinforced console components. It also has eight materials in production in its bio-based portfolio, including coconut-based composite materials, the company said.

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