Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Rubber stamp: turning food waste into tyres

Prototype of rubber produced using food waste-sourced filler Prototype of rubber produced using food waste-sourced filler Kenneth Chamberlain/Ohio State University
31 Mar
2017
Newly-developed ‘sustainable rubber’, produced using recycled food waste, could one day be used to make car tyres

Global demand for rubber is soaring, led primarily by the growth in tyre consumption as the developing world increasingly takes to the road. However, since up to 30 per cent of automobile tyres consist of ‘carbon black’ – a petroleum-based reinforcing filler – the knock-on effects of this boom come with environmental consequences.

Furthermore, the worldwide supply of carbon black is proving relatively unsustainable. Katrina Cornish, an Ohio Research Scholar and Endowed Chair in Biomaterials at Ohio State University, explains:

‘At the moment there’s no global surplus of carbon black, and the demand is going up every year in parallel with the demand for rubber, which is why we’re going to have a shortfall in the near future, which is going to be pretty devastating if we don’t have any alternatives in place.’

coloursDried and ground tomato skins (top) and eggshells (bottom) are shown after coarse, medium, and fine processing before being added to rubber (Image: Kenneth Chamberlain/Ohio State University)

Could so-called ‘sustainable rubber’ produced using industrial food waste be a solution? Cornish and fellow researchers at Ohio State have developed the technology by taking advantage of the vast quantities of tomato peel and eggshells which are otherwise thrown away each year in the production of various canned or otherwise processed food products. In America alone, up to 50 billion eggs are cracked in commercial food operations annually, while the majority of the 13 million tonnes of tomatoes eaten in the country each year are peeled and discarded in similar circumstances.

The processed rubber has proven to be just as tough and reliable as brand new rubber, and scaling up usage of this alternative to the existing carbon black filler could one day have a significant impact on meeting the global demand for tyres. Says Cornish:

‘I do think that there’s the potential here for a real win-win situation. Everybody can make money. It’s environmentally-friendly. Tomato peel is also light-weight, so you could actually reduce [tyre] weight, which is a good thing as well. We may find that we can pursue many applications that were not possible before with natural rubber.’

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

Kacper Kowalski's aerial photos capture the graphic shapes of our…

Wildlife

Invasive species are considered one of the greatest threats to…

Nature

Professor Steve Fletcher, director of the Global Plastics Policy Centre…

Wildlife

The international conservation agreement CITES is nearly half a century old.…

Wildlife

With Scotland’s salmon under threat, environmental groups are planting trees…

Oceans

As coastal development continues to grow, research begins to reveal the…

Wildlife

Research into rhesus macaques on a remote island finds that survivors of…

Climate

 The release of the latest IPCC report suggests it's 'now…

Wildlife

A new technique to collect animal DNA from thin air could…

Wildlife

As animal species decline, plants that rely on them to…

Nature

Calls to make ecocide a crime are gaining ground

Wildlife

In South Africa, a new wave of poaching has taken…

Tectonics

A volcanologist unpicks the devastating eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai

Oceans

Some areas of the ocean are richer in microplastics than…

Oceans

The ocean floor is home to rich deposits of metals…

Climate

The industry will only keep growing. Could algae help to…

Nature

A monumental effort is underway to map the world’s fungal…

Geophoto

In his project Black Dots, Nicholas JR White set out upon the…

Wildlife

China’s Amur tiger population is recovering, reflecting the country’s changing…

Climate

Scientists are pushing back against the notion that the food…