Sweet rubber tyres

  • The first half of the 20th century witnessed the development of synthetic rubber, which is now used to produce almost 1 billion tyres annually worldwide. Manufactured using derivatives of crude oil, synthetic rubber costs are sensitive to oil pricing.
  • To reduce costs and improve sustainability, tyre manufacturers are partnering with industrial biotechnology to produce bio-based rubber.
  • Employing microbes to transform simple sugars into the building blocks necessary to create rubber (e.g. isoprene, isobutene, and butadiene), researchers have created a bio-based prototype that meets tyre manufacturer’s specifications. Commercial development remains another 3 to 5 years away.

As bio-production of fine chemicals increases, concern will be directed to supplying adequate quantities of feed stocks (e.g. sugar). Production of these plant based feed stocks require agricultural space, which will inevitably compete with space for biofuel and sustenance crops, thus further complicating the already complex food security issue.


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