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Tires could be on the road to a greener future


March 24, 2010

Tires could be made with much less crude oil, thanks to the development of BioIsoprene (Photo: Istock)

Tires could be made with much less crude oil, thanks to the development of BioIsoprene (Photo: Istock)

According to the American Chemical Society, seven gallons of crude oil go into each one of approximately a billion car tires that are produced every year worldwide. Today, however, scientists announced a development that could drastically reduce oil usage in tires. It involves isoprene, a hydrocarbon that is currently obtained as a by-product from refining crude oil, and that is a key ingredient in the production of synthetic rubber. Using sugars from renewable sources such as sugar cane, corn or switchgrass, the scientists have been able to create a “green” isoprene, trademarked as BioIsoprene. They expect it could start being used to produce tires within five years.

The technology is being developed by Goodyear, and biotech firm Genencor. "An intensive search has been underway for years for alternative sources of isoprene, in particular those from renewable resources such as biomass," said Joseph McAuliffe, a staff scientist at Genencor. "One technical challenge has been the development of an efficient process for converting sugars into isoprene. One means by which we're addressing this challenge is by using a fermentation process based on a modified bacterial strain that is designed to convert carbohydrate feedstocks into BioIsoprene product."

The current plan is for BioIsoprene to supplement the use of petroleum-based isoprene, not replace it entirely. Besides greening up the tire industry, the product could also offset isoprene usage in other synthetic rubber products, and in other materials such as hot melt adhesives used in products like diapers.

McAuliffe presented the technology in San Francisco today, at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Greener tires in five years, I remember the magazines in the 70\'s saying we would all be flying around by now with no tires needed, damn those laws of thermodynamics.

Joe Stafura

\"Hævea brasiliensis\", natural rubber, is nothing more than natural polyisoprene. Even by fermentation of sugars, the production of isoprene will consume more energy than search it ready in nature, as in the case of oil. Oil will never be replaced, as an important source of hydrocarbons used for production of polymers. Lavoisier criticized the indiscriminated use of the fossil oil for burning, because he now knowed its biggest importance for chemistry. Any chemical or biochemical reaction, will require more energy to getting the same product, than through the oil. Therefore, obtaining the polyisoprene by oil, it is quite green, as far as by the \"hævea brasiliensis\".


Methinks sorta like battery announcements: \"coming soon, well..eventually, no, really we will eventually....And get ready for the Green Bubble to burst soon I didn\'t know Lavoiseier shared my position against burning blackgold. My way of puting it: \"your grandkids are going to ask you in shocked disbelief: \'you really burned it for fuel? wow!\'\" (and you, redfaced, will have no good reason to give except \'we were dumb back in those times.\'

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