Goodyear has announced that it has begun a joint project, with Danish company Genencor, to produce a bio-based substitute for the production of Isoprene. The venture is aiming to develop an alternative source for the production of Isoprene, which will reduce reliance on oil-derived products.
The new product, to be called Biolsoprene, will remove the tyre industry’s dependence on petroleum-based isoprene monomer. With current oil prices being so variable, this will introduce an element of stability that has been lacking in recent years. It could also have significant ecological advantages as Biolsoprene could be used for the production of synthetic rubber.
Genencor claims that the global market for isoprene could amount to as much as US$2 billion per annum in the next few years. Biolsoprene, as a renewable alternative to more traditionally produced isoprene, could take a significant percentage of this market. This seems likely if, as the company claims, the new product is also priced very competitively.
Genencor will produce the Biolsoprene and supply it to Goodyear, but they also anticipate further sales to other sectors in need of high-purity isoprene. The two companies have been investing in the project for over a year, and the Danes intend to invest a further US$50 million over the next three years in order to bring the project to commercial fruition. Further investment will then be necessary to facilitate pilot plant and infrastructure, and the company expects to be able to commission its first manufacturing facility by 2012.
For the tyre manufacturers this represents an ideal opportunity to address the problem of the rising cost of raw materials. A spokesperson for Genencor said, “We truly see this as a unique opportunity that is consistent with our culture of innovation and industry leadership”. Goodyear’s chief technology officer, Jean-Claude Kihn, added, ‘Since synthetic rubber is a critical component to our products, we are very excited to be working on this renewable alternative with Genencor”.
The project is another illustration of the imaginative way in which the leading tyre manufacturers are addressing the economic and environmental problems posed by the current world situation.