Goodyear replacing some petroleum-derived oil in heavy-duty tires with soybean oil to make tread compound to mitigate climate change; soybean oil more compatible with some polymers used in tires, offers exceptional winter performance, reduces viscosity

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June 14, 2022 (press release) –

    

 

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is now producing heavy-duty tires for buses and garbage trucks by using soybean oil to replace some of the petroleum-derived oil previously used in the manufacturing process.

That brings the number of tires the Akron-based company is now making with soybean oil to six. The company also uses it in the production of four different passenger car tires, the first being the brand’s Assurance WeatherReady tire in 2017.

While Goodyear only uses soybean oil to make the tread component of the tires, the company has set a goal of permanently replacing the use of all petroleum-refined oil in its tires by 2040. Oil makes up 8% of a tire by weight.

The development of bio-materials for use in tire production is a growing trend among tire companies as they take on a commitment to mitigating climate change and better understanding the environmental impact of their own products, said Kim Kleine, spokesperson for the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, “and it’s not all soybean oil.”

Japan-based Bridgestone and Pirelli, headquartered in Italy, are researching the use of guayle, an evergreen shrub that grows in America’s Southwest as a new source of natural rubber, Kleine said.

And both Goodyear and Germany-based Continental are trying to determine if a specific kind of dandelion can provide a new kind of natural rubber, Kleine said.

Goodyear said in April that it’s working with the Department of Defense and others to develop a domestic source of natural rubber from dandelions that would be more sustainable than the rubber trees of Southeast Asia and less vulnerable to supply chain problems.

Goodyear also is using silica derived from the burning of rice husks as a replacement for sand silica used as a filler for some high-performance tires.

The company’s research into the use of soybean oil in tires began in earnest in 2011 and was conducted at Goodyear’s Innovation Center in Akron, said Bob Woloszynek, the company’s chief engineer for global material development in the company’s Americas region.

Scientists “found some interesting advantages” to using soybean oil instead of petroleum-based oil in passenger car tires, Woloszynek said, which made the transition away from petroleum-based oil more than “just a sustainability play.”

“It’s actually more compatible with the various polymers that we use in our products,” said Woloszynek, who went to Benedictine High School in Cleveland, obtained his doctoral degree from Case Western Reserve University, and began working for Goodyear 15 years ago as a research chemist.

The oil also helps provide “exceptional winter performance” while maintaining some of the passenger tire’s all-weather attributes, he said.

The soybean oil aids in mixing the compound that is extruded to become tire tread and was found to provide a greater reduction in viscosity, Woloszynek said, which enables Goodyear to use less of it in the process. The soybean oil replaces about 16 ounces of petroleum-derived oil in a waste haul tire and about 11 ounces in one of the bus or passenger tires.

“We add the soybean oil to the mixer at various stages depending on the recipe and depending on how we mix the compound,” Woloszynek said.

Goodyear has been working on tire development with the United Soybean Board for more than a decade. The board uses money collected through a Congressionally mandated assessment on soybean sales to fund research and development into new uses for surplus soybean oil.

John Jansen, vice president for strategic partnership at the United Soybean Board, said it has put about $3 million toward Goodyear’s soybean project over the years with money going either to the company or supporting land grant universities.

Soybeans are the No. 2 cash crop in the United States after corn and about 25 billion pounds of soybean oil are produced each year. About 10% of that production goes toward industrial uses, such as tires, coatings, soaps and thousands of other products. Another 40% goes into biofuels, and about 45% is for food uses, with the remaining 5% being exported.

Jansen said the amount of soybean oil that goes into tires is so small compared with the volume produced in the United States that the resulting demand has no effect on price.

Eventually, Goodyear has a lot of changes in store for its tires, which are not as simple to produce as some people might think.

“A lot of people don’t understand the complexity of a modern tire,” Woloszynek said. It consists of a variety of materials, from natural and synthetic rubber, to fillers such as carbon black and silica, to chemicals that protect the tire from oxidation, and reinforcements such as steel and fabric.

The company has a goal of producing a 100% sustainable tire by 2030 and has already developed a demonstration tire that’s 70% sustainable using soybean oil, rice husk ash silica, bio-based polymers, fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and a variety of other materials.

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