Process technology developed to produce green tyres

THE HANS INDIA |   Feb 11,2017 , 04:20 AM IST
   


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Discovery could have major impact on the multi-billion dollar tyre industry

A team of researchers, led by the University of Minnesota, has invented a new technology to produce automobile tires from trees and grasses in a process that could shift the tire production industry toward using renewable resources found right in our backyards. Conventional car tyres are viewed as environmentally unfriendly because they are predominately made from fossil fuels. The car tyres produced from biomass that includes trees and grasses would be identical to existing car tyres with the same chemical makeup, color, shape, and performance.

The technology has been patented by the University of Minnesota and is available for licensing through the University of Minnesota Office of Technology Commercialization. The new study is published by the American Chemical Society’s ACS Catalysis, a leading journal in the chemical and catalysis sciences. Authors of the study, include researchers from the University of Minnesota, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the Center for Sustainable Polymers, a National Science Foundation-funded center at the University of Minnesota.

“Our team created a new chemical process to make isoprene, the key molecule in car tyres, from natural products like trees, grasses, or corn,” said Paul Dauenhauer, a University of Minnesota associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science and lead researcher of the study. Currently, isoprene is produced by thermally breaking apart molecules in petroleum that are similar to gasoline in a process called “cracking.”

Funded by NSF, researchers from the Center for Sustainable Polymers have focused on a new process that begins with sugars derived from biomass including grasses, trees and corn.  The first step of the new process is microbial fermentation of sugars, such as glucose, derived from biomass to an intermediate, called itaconic acid.

In the second step, itaconic acid is reacted with hydrogen to a chemical called methyl-THF (tetrahydrofuran). This step was optimized when the research team identified a unique metal-metal combination that served as a highly efficient catalyst. The process technology breakthrough came in the third step to dehydrate methyl-THF to isoprene.  

“Economically bio-sourced isoprene has the potential to expand domestic production of car tyres by using renewable, readily available resources instead of fossil fuels,” said Frank Bates, a world-renowned polymer expert and University of Minnesota Regents Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. “This discovery could also impact many other technologically advanced rubber-based products.”




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