Researchers studying new way to make tires

Posted on June 7, 2012

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Researchers at Michigan State University believe that a manmade version of isoprene, a gas, could provide an alternative to rubber when making tires.

Isoprene is given off by many trees, ferns and mosses, and some plants use it as a mechanism to tolerate heat stress.

Tom Sharkey, chairperson of the Michigan State University biochemistry and molecular biology department, and his research team have measured rates of isoprene emission from plants that are used by the EPA to predict lower-atmosphere ozone levels. The team has also created models to measure how much isoprene plants release on a global scale.

“I’ve found that isoprene research is irresistible,” Sharkey said. “Once it was clear how much isoprene trees and plants produce and how biologically produced isoprene could be a key ingredient in making tires, it was natural to wonder if we could produce isoprene on a commercial scale.”

The majority of automobile tires are made of natural rubber from latex-bearing trees. Since rubber is made up of isoprene, Sharkey has worked to create a manmade version, bio-isoprene, which officials said can serve as an eco-friendly alternative source for synthetic rubber production.

Other researchers have made isoprene from petroleum to make synthetic rubber. Sharkey’s team, however, is working to produce bio-isoprene using an enzyme he has cloned. With the enzyme, Sharkey has made bio-isoprene using bacteria. Ultimately, he hopes this process would take in carbon dioxide and discharge bio-isoprene using only sunlight as an energy source.

Related Topics: tires

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