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.