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Going Green: Tomorrow’s tires could be made from your lawn clippings

How to rotate your tires
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Tire production is a multi-billion dollar industry that manufactures billions of tires every single year. Modern tires exhibit impressive performance and durability, while maintaining a relatively low cost.

The one thing they don’t have? A particularly friendly environmental impact, due to the fact that they’re manufactured from synthetic natural rubber, a polymer that’s synthesized from the petroleum-derived molecule known as isoprene.

However, things could soon change due to new research coming out of the University of Minnesota, where chemists have developed a more eco-friendly way to manufacture tires by making them out of grass and trees — and without affecting the color, shape or performance in the process. The research was published this week in the journal ACS Catalysis.

“Our work describes a new catalyst and new chemistry to manufacture isoprene from biomass resources such as grasses, trees or corn,” Paul Dauenhauer, associate professor of chemical engineering, told Digital Trends. “The renewable isoprene can then be converted into renewable synthetic natural rubber, which can be integrated into tire production. Renewable isoprene can be manufactured from domestic resources and co-located with biorefineries, such as ethanol facilities throughout the Midwest United States. This process also has the side benefit of capturing carbon dioxide from the air and sequestering it within useful products.”

Don’t worry if you’re not big into cars, either, since Dauenhauer said that the processes developed as part of the study could also find a home in the preparation of other rubbers and hard plastics — thereby opening up a broad range of potential products.

So what’s next? Well, as Steve Jobs quipped back in 2007 when showing off the iPhone for the first time, “boy, have [they] patented it.”

“The University of Minnesota has patented both the process technology and the catalyst, which are available for licensing through the Minnesota Office of Technology Commercialization,” Dauenhauer continued.

Presumably, money and grass clippings should be sent to the university campus.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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