Where the soybean hits the road. Has a nice ring to it… Wait… What?
Because the tire manufacturer, Goodyear, is developing tires that can be made partially out of soybean oil, the old cliché about rubber and roads could become obsolete. This may be true because there are a few advantages that soybeans have over petroleum-based rubber, Goodyear officials say.
For example, early testing at the factory indicates that the soybean oil-based compound could increase tire life by as much as 10% over conventional materials, reports Fox News. As an additional benefit, soybeans have been found by the company to improve the dispersion of additives used in modern rubber formulations, such as silica, which could lead to a better manufacturing process.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association says that a synthetic rubber tire contains about five gallons of petroleum-based oil, reports MSNBC, but Goodyear doesn’t say how much of that will get replaced by soybean oil. However, the company does believe that the new tires may reduce its petroleum consumption by as much as seven million gallons a year. That amount is about as much petroleum as 8,000 American drivers might use in a year, as calculated from data from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Argonne National Laboratory, and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Another advantage to switching to locally sourced soybean oil is that the natural product is sustainable. Moreover, the pricing of it would be less volatile than petroleum products.
It is worth noting that the development is being funded in part by a grant from the United Soybean Board. Much like corn producers benefited from using corn in ethanol, soybean producers have much to gain from the innovation. The United States is the world’s largest producer of soybeans and soybean oil. If all goes well, Goodyear could begin selling the new tires in 2015.
Source: “Goodyear developing soybean-based tire rubber,” Fox News, 7/25/12
Source: “Where the soybeans meet the road — on your car tires,” MSNBC, 7/25/12
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.