Motorists were recently given some sweet news. The world’s first “green” tires may be hitting the road within the next few years and they’ll likely be made from sugar. Strained supplies and high prices for natural and synthetic rubber have caused tire companies to look for more renewable and sustainable sources for raw materials. Traditionally, petroleum has been used to make almost 1 billion tires annually worldwide, with a single tire taking nearly 7 gallons of oil to manufacture. To offset this scarcity, two leading tire makers — Goodyear and Michelin — along with synthetic rubber manufacturer Lanxess have partnered with industrial biotechnology companies to start producing bio-based rubber from sugar.
According to C&EN senior business editor Melody Bomgardner, microbial fermentation is the key to making three renewable rubber intermediates: isoprene, isobutene and butadiene. These compounds, she explained, “cover a wide swath of ground for the rubber making industry.” Goodyear has already made prototype tires with the bio-based isoprene, confirming that it meets their specifications for rubber used in tire manufacturing. However, Bomgardner says these tires probably won’t make their debut for another 3 to 5 years.