For decades engineers have used petroleum to make everyday products. It’s still commonly used in everything from rubbers and plastics to chemicals and asphalt.
But this useful product comes from crude oil, which is often criticized by activists and experts as harmful to the environment, citing oil spills and fracking incidents.
Recent studies from the last decade have shown that petroleum isn’t as efficient as some once thought. Now, companies, engineers and scientists aim to replace it with plant-based oils, specifically soybeans.
The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. recently announced its goal to replace all petroleum-based products with soybean oil by 2040.
The Akron-based firm is one in a line of companies that have begun to partially or fully replace petroleum with plant oil.
Switching to soybeans
Goodyear’s search for a petroleum replacement began a decade ago when petroleum prices rose too high, so engineers like Bob Woloszynek sought out cheaper and more sustainable alternatives.
Around the same time, consumer requests started trickling in. They wanted environmentally friendly tires, said Woloszynek, chief engineer in Goodyear’s Global Raw Material Development & Approvals department.
“We started to evaluate soybean oil, and being a triglyceride, it has a different chemical structure than your typical petroleum-based oils,” he said.
Upon reviewing their initial findings, a few things stood out.
Soybean oil mixed better with the polymers used to create their rubber compounds, making it “a very flexible option,” Woloszynek said.
It also has a low glass transition temperature, meaning it freezes at very low conditions.