Goodyear developing soybean-based tire rubber

What do tires and tofu have in common? Besides being soft and mushy, not much. But that’s about to change.

Goodyear is developing a new rubber compound that uses soybean oil instead of petroleum-based products, and it could be on the road in just a few years.

The project, funded in part with a grant from the United Soybean Board, is moving from the lab to Goodyear’s proving grounds in San Angelo, Texas, where it will be evaluated to determine if it’s ready for some prime wheel time.

Mike Kerns, Manager of Global Materials Technology for Goodyear, says that early testing at the factory where it is produced indicates that the compound could increase tire tread life by as much as 10 percent over conventional materials, and that it has been found to improve the dispersion of additives used in modern rubber formulations, such as silica, which could lead to more efficient manufacturing processes.

But the main advantages to switching to locally-sourced soybean oil are sustainability and less pricing volatility compared to the petroleum products currently in use. The United States is the world’s largest producer of both soybeans and soybean oil.

If the testing goes well, Kerns says that Goodyear could begin selling the new tires as early as 2015.

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