The new tires are bio-based

Pirelli tires

The tire of the future will be bio-based. There is great turmoil in the industry to bring to market the first tires made using renewable raw materials. Pirelli, Michelin, Goodyear, Continental have entered into important partnerships with biotech companies all focusing on green chemistry to overcome the dependence on fossil resources.

Goodyear and DuPont Industrial Biosciences are working together to develop BioIsoprene, a revolutionary bio-based alternative for petroleum-derived isoprene. It can be used for the production of synthetic rubber, which is an alternative for natural rubber and other elastomers. According to Goodyear, “the development of BioIsoprene will help reduce the tire and rubber industry’s dependence on oil-derived products”.

For the US tire and rubber company, a bio-based alternative to synthetic rubber is an important advancement, as the company seeks innovative approaches to addressing raw material needs. The company is committed to reducing its carbon footprint, and BioIsoprene monomer produced from renewable materials will help achieve this goal.

“Finding a replacement for oil-derived materials is the right thing to do from a business standpoint, but it’s also the right thing to do for the environment,” said Jean-Claude Kihn, chief technical officer for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. “Since synthetic rubber is a critical component to our products and many others, we are very excited to be working on this renewable alternative with DuPont.”

Aside from synthetic rubber for tire production, BioIsoprene can be used in a wide range of products such as surgical gloves, golf balls and adhesives. By itself, Goodyear is one of the world’s largest users of isoprene for the production of synthetic rubber and other elastomers.

In 2013 also Michelin announced plans to develop alternatives to the synthetic, oil-based materials used in their tires. The company launched the program “Bio Butterfly” to investigate the viability of organics like straw, beets, and wood to create their products.

Michelin currently uses a mix of natural rubber and butadiene to make their tires. Butadiene is sourced from a petroleum byproduct. The French company expects a shortage by 2020 and is looking towards organic waste to produce a biological alternative. Biomass could potentially be fermented to create alcohol and further modified to form bio-butadiene.

Bio Butterfly is currently investigating the economic viability of transforming biological waste into tires. France’s Environment and Energy Management Agency has pledged $20 million to aid in the effort, and over the next years the project’s budget will total around $70 million. Other tire giants such as Bridgestone and Pirelli are also hoping to develop a replacement for butadiene.

Pirelli and Versalis (Group ENI) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to kick off a joint research project for the use of guayule-based natural rubber in tire production. On an exclusivity basis, Versalis will provide an innovative range of guayule-based natural rubber materials, while Pirelli will carry out trial tests to validate the performance of the materials for tire production.

As soon as new industrial quantities become available, Versalis will supply Pirelli with guayule-based natural rubber to complement the current set of synthetic rubber that Versalis is already supplying to Pirelli for the production of conventional tires.

The agreement with Pirelli followed the announcement of a milestone partnership between Versalis and Yulex Corporation USA for guayule production and for the construction of an industrial complex to be based in Southern Europe. Guayule (Parthenium argentatum) is a renewable, non-food crop that requires little water usage, no pesticides and is an alternative source of natural rubber thanks to its latex allergy-friendly properties, unlike Hevea rubber.

The agreement with Versalis integrates and extends Pirelli’s commitment in the search for new materials from renewable sources and especially from biomasses. Pirelli, which already produces tires with raw materials derived from rice husk (the inedible part of the grain usually used as fuel), aims to gradually reduce the heavy reliance on fossil resources, replacing them with alternative raw materials which induce better performance and match up with higher standards of environmental sustainability in terms of processes and products.

“This new partnership between Versalis and Pirelli builds on a series of initiatives to develop technologies for tire applications with a focus on performance and energy efficiency. Both companies are well-established industry leaders at an international level; they represent a sound model for undivided commitment to all levels of research, including the green sector”, said Daniele Ferrari, Chief Executive Officer of Versalis.

“Pirelli – said Maurizio Boiocchi, Chief Technical Officer – has always been dedicated to the development of innovative solutions that prioritize sustainability, and this means safety and respect for the environment. In this regard, it is essential to prioritise research on renewable raw materials, an area where we hold industry leadership at an international level. The research project into guayule-based natural rubber is one of our key activities that fully engages our team of researchers”.

Also Cooper Tire, the 12th largest global tire manufacturer, signed a joint development agreement with Yulex to evaluate and develop biopolymer and bio-based resins derived from for tire applications. Under the agreement, Cooper provides advanced polymer and materials science expertise and shares its design, development and testing capabilities. Yulex provides experience with the development and production of advanced engineered guayule-based biopolymers.

German tire manufacturer and automotive supplier Continental, together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME) at the University of Münster, was honored with the GreenTec Award 2014 for the co-development project “Rubin – Industrial Emergence of Natural Rubber from Dandelion.” Continental is pushing a very promising technology whose full potential will unfold in the next few years. In view of increasing levels of motorization in growth markets such as Asia, the company expects a major increase in demand for natural rubber in the future. “We are convinced that the use of rubber from dandelion root will make our tire production considerably more efficient and sustainable”, said Nikolai Setzer, member of the Executive Board of Continental and Head of Tire Division.

“In the Rubin project we are working to find an ecologically, economically, and socially viable solution to meet this growing demand”, added Andreas Topp, Vice President Material and Process Development and Industrialization Tires at Continental. Continental and IME are currently working on the industrial use of Russian dandelion, which is said to be very rubber-rich and does not need a tropical climate in contrast to regular rubber trees. This undemanding plant can be cultivated in a number of temperate regions on what is known as marginal land that was previously unusable in terms of agriculture.


by Michael Burgundy

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