- Researchers from the Texas A&M University campus in Qatar and the California Institute of Technology say they've found a new method for creating synthetic rubber that could be used to make biodegradable tires.
- The researchers found a way to string together molecules of cyclopentene — a byproduct of oil refining — and make polypentenamers, which are similar to natural rubber. Current synthetic rubber methods use a different material that has recently become more expensive.
- Using a special process with 40-50 degree Celsius heat the synthetic rubber can be broken down with full recovery of all materials. The researchers are now conducting further tests to see how it reacts with the metal and filling needed to make standard tires.
Millions of tons of scrap tires are generated in the U.S. every year. While some are used for refuse-derived fuel, many end up in landfills and cause a host of problems. If not managed properly they can leach chemicals, become fire hazards or even create breeding grounds for mosquitos. If the tires are illegally dumped these problems can be even more pronounced.
Governments have been looking for better ways to manage this material and tried a range of approaches. Arkansas recently initiated an audit to make its tire management district system more efficient and Houston has begun enforcing stricter registration requirements for local tire recyclers. California is also giving out more than $1 million in grants for engineering projects such as landfill bedding and wetland restoration.
If this new synthetic rubber proves successful it could make disposal operations easier for a large portion of the waste industry. The research team recently presented at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting and is now working to see if the process can be viable on a larger scale. They've joined up with an industry partner who hopes to sell the new tires if all goes according to plan.