Goodyear soybean tires cut oil use

Goodyear is trying soybean oil as a petroleum replacement for tires.

The big tire company plans to announce today that using soybean oil in place of petroleum for tires is a preliminary success. In fact, to hear the tire company tell it, soybean oil could be a magic bullet because it:

  • Blends better with the silica also used to make tires.
  • Reduces energy consumption at the factory.
  • Can increase tread life 10%.
  • Could cut Goodyear’s own oil use by 7 million gallons a year.

You can’t buy bean-oil tires yet, though. Still at the prototype stage. If testing at Goodyear’s track in Texas goes well, you could be able to buy soybean tires by 2015, the tiremaker says.

No hint of whether they’d be more expensive than conventionally made tires.

Not surprisingly, the United Soybean Board (USB — how’s that for a modern acronym?) is kicking in $500,000 over two years to help pay for the research.

As is the case with corn ethanol that’s blended with gasoline for fuel, critics might object to using farmland to grow substances for transportation, rather than for food.

For the agriculturally challenged, soybeans aren’t those green beans that come in Green Giant cans aimed at your dinner table. But they long have had food as well as industrial uses. Corn grown for ethanol isn’t table food; it’s a grain that is fed to cattle and hogs. The sweet corn that you enjoy by the ear is a different sort of corn.

Soybeans can be made into flour that’s useful in such treats as doughnuts and pie crusts. It is the source of the soy sauce in those packets you get in takeout Chinese food, as well as the tofu in various dishes.

Industrial uses include such disparate items as paint and pesticides, inks and disinfectants, caulking and shampoo. (Thanks to the Iowa State University Soybean Extension and Research Program for a far longer list of uses than even people from Iowa might have imagined.)