A revolutionary technology has emerged from years of research to produce isoprene, a key ingredient in tires, without using petroleum products. As the process uses renewable feedstock, namely, sugar extracted from raw materials such as switchgrass, corn cobs, sugarcane, and even biomass, scientists foresee motors with “sweet” tires that will ensure a more sustainable future in the field of transportation. This technology that will bring about the world’s first “green” tires will also be a first step toward reducing the dependence on crude oil. At present, the worldwide annual requirement to produce almost 1 billion tires is 7 gallons of crude oil.
Genencor, an industrial biotechnology company, has been successful in converting sugar into isoprene with the help of bacteria. This isoprene can be used to produce synthetic rubber, which is used as a supplement to natural rubber. In addition to tire manufacture, isoprene is used in other rubber-based products such as surgical gloves, in elastomers, and as block copolymers (e.g., SIS) that are used as adhesives for diapers.
At present, the total cost of isoprene derived from petroleum products is about 1.7 billion pounds. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., whose yearly production is 200 million tires, has joined hands with Genencor to develop a new product called BioIsoprene through an efficient system that combines fermentation, purification, and recovery. Genencor hopes to make this product commercially available in the next five years, and Goodyear, one among the largest users of isoprene in the world, plans to replace its application of petroleum-derived isoprene with BioIsoprene.
This new product, which is cost-efficient with regard to isoprene, has great potential for a more sustainable future and will attract global markets that are struggling against the rising prices of crude oil.