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Goodyear experimenting with soybean-based tires

The company says using soybean based-oils for the rubber in their tires would be cost-effective for consumers and could reduce Goodyear's oil use by as much as seven million gallons annually.

Stacey Vanek Smith: We think of cars as using a lot of oil. But what about tires? Turns out, one standard car tire contains roughly seven gallons of oil. Now Goodyear Tire & Rubber is working on an alternative: A tire made with soybean oil.

Michael Kerns manages the global materials science group at Goodyear. He's helping to develop the soybean tire. Good morning Michael.

Michael Kerns: Good morning.

Vanek Smith: So why soybean oil?

Kerns: We took a look at our possibilities, and Goodyear uses petroleum-based oils typically to aid in the processing of our rubber compounds, and we're always looking to give the company options as a means to free ourselves from dependence on any one raw material, especially petroleum. Soybean oil is actually readily available in the U.S. If you look at bio-based oils, it's one of the most abundant and cost-effective alternatives that we could find.

Vanek Smith: From what I understand, this could actually reduce Goodyear's oil use by quite a bit.

Kerns: Yeah. Right now we're looking at exactly how much that would be, and of course it depends on the market penetration, but estimates range to as high as over seven million gallons of oil annually.

Vanek Smith: So what the consumer buying these tires? What differences will they see between buying and using a regular tire, and buying and using a soybean oil-based tire?

Kerns: Well right now, we're looking at some of those factors. Currently we see this as being cost-neutral; that's one of the things that we find to be most attractive about soybean oil as an alternative, it seems to be fairly cost-effective. But from the consumer's perspective, the tire will look the same. Our initial indications are that they may actually experience an improvement in the tread life.

We're currently looking at only treads, so the sidewall of the tire, the inner lining of the tire are not being considered right now. And really, how far this penetrates into our product line and into the actual construction of the tire really depends on how successful we are going forward, and how cost-effective this remains to be, versus petroleum.

Vanek Smith: Michael Kerns is the manager of global materials science group at Goodyear. Michael, thank you.

Kerns: Thank you very much.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.
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