Skip to main content

Running on rubbish: Automakers eye using eggshells, tomato skins in car parts

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Instead of plastic, aluminum, and fine Corinthian leather, the interior of your next car could be made partially of food scraps, according to a new report. Automakers are searching for new materials to lower the environmental impact of future cars, according to Automotive News, and that search is leading researchers to the garbage pile.

Tomato skins could become an environmentally friendly alternative to the carbon black used in many rubber car parts, such as tires, hoses, and suspension bushings, reports Automotive News. Katrina Cornish, a professor at Ohio State University, first got the idea in the 1990s, when she saw a truckload of tomatoes. The tomatoes on the bottom of the pile must have had very tough skins in order to handle the weight of those on top, she reasoned.

Cornish now experiments with alternatives to traditional rubber components. She asked businesses to send garbage bags of industrial waste to her lab, according to Automotive News. Sifting through the trash, she found another potential rubber component: eggshells. When ground into a fine powder, they could work as a reinforcing agent in rubber car parts, Automotive News reports.

Ohio State researchers, along with counterparts at supplier Tenneco and “at least one major automaker,” are now testing both tomato skins and eggshells as substitutes to traditional materials for car parts. There’s no guarantee that these natural materials will ever make it into production cars, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented. Cashew husks and the oil derived from them are already used in brake pads and shoes, Automotive News noted. Ford has also experimented with bamboo and the byproduct of tequila-producing agave plants as alternatives to current plastics.

Some cars already in production feature small amounts of sustainable materials. Plant-based kenaf is used in the interior of the BMW i3 electric car, while Ford uses rice hulls and soy-based foam in some of its vehicles. Ford also uses recycled plastic bottles and recycled clothing material in certain vehicles.

Whether it’s tomato skins or old pants, sustainable materials could become more important as automakers start churning out more electric cars. Eliminating “tailpipe” emissions means the emissions related to producing a car make a larger part of its overall carbon footprint. To lessen the environmental impact of cars, automakers will need to take a more holistic view.

Editors' Recommendations

Stephen Edelstein
Stephen is a freelance automotive journalist covering all things cars. He likes anything with four wheels, from classic cars…
The Lucid Gravity has more range than any other electric SUV
A Lucid Gravity electric SUV on the road.

The Lucid Air is a marvelous electric car. It offers more range than any EV currently on sale, plus impressive performance and tech. However, it’s also a sedan, and therefore will always have limited reach in a marketplace dominated by SUVs. Enter the Lucid Gravity, a seven-passenger, three-row SUV launching in 2024 that will allow Lucid to reach a wider audience.

The Gravity is a sensible follow-up to the Air. Having introduced itself to the world with that sedan, Lucid can now channel some of the buzz into a vehicle aimed at a larger patch of the market. But it also presents a challenge. In order to create a true SUV, Lucid had to make the Gravity heavier and less aerodynamic than the Air, cutting into the efficiency that was a hallmark of the sedan’s design.

Read more
Amazon and Hyundai partner on online car sales, in-car services
A 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe in front of a giant Amazon box.

At the 2023 Los Angeles Auto Show, Amazon and Hyundai announced a partnership that will bring Amazon Alexa Built-in apps to future Hyundai vehicles and will make Hyundai the first brand in Amazon's planned foray into online car sales.

Starting in 2025, "next-generation" Hyundai vehicles will offer the same Alexa experience users get at home, the automaker's announcement said. Drivers will be able to ask Alexa to play music podcasts or audiobooks, set reminders, update to-do lists, and check calendars, as well as control smart-home functions. The built-in Alexa functionality will also include real-time traffic and weather information, as well as voice control for navigation systems. "Certain" features will be available even when internet access is limited.

Read more
Volvo EM90 electric minivan: price, release date, range, and more
Volvo EM90 Driving

If you want an electric SUV, crossover, or sedan, you're spoiled for choices right now. Kia EV6? Rivian R1S? Volvo EX30? All great picks.

But what if you want ... a minivan?

Read more