Where the Rubber Meets the Row Crop

Austin Fallin

Austin Fallin

St. Louis, Missouri

New Goodyear Tires Drive Demand For Soybean Oil.

In business, success is all about the ceaseless quest to develop advantages over competitors.

Goodyear secured its latest competitive advantage with soybean oil, which helped its new Assurance WeatherReady tire achieve excellent performance in dry, wet and winter conditions for true all-season performance.

Over the past six years, the soy checkoff worked with Goodyear to develop soy-based technology that would add performance to road tires. Goodyear harnessed this new technology to reach the aggressive level of traction it was looking for in the Assurance WeatherReady tire.

This marks a huge win for the soy industry, which supports research with industrial partners such as Goodyear to innovate, develop new uses and reach new customers with soybean oil.

“The checkoff was established to bring profit back to farmers,” says United Soybean Board farmer-leader Larry Marek. “Our win with the WeatherReady tire is the latest example of how farmers’ investments are working for them through the checkoff.”

Soybean tire technology gets rolling

The checkoff hosts technical meetings to share innovative ideas with leading manufacturers to help them bring more sustainable, better performing products to market.

Goodyear had been evaluating soybean oil as an ingredient in compound formulations for some time. When Goodyear learned about Ford Motor Company’s success experimenting with soy-based rubber at one of these meetings in 2011,

it decided to expand those efforts.

“Sustainability was a factor that led us to evaluate soybean oil as a material,” says Bob Woloszynek, lead engineer in Goodyear’s global material science organization. “But for an ingredient to make it into a product, it has to deliver true performance.”

In their early research, Goodyear scientists and engineers evaluated how soybean oil might behave in product applications. They looked at traits such as compatibility with other tire materials, curing attributes, thermal stability and mixing capability with rubber polymers.

“We saw some pretty promising results initially just by adding the soybean oil without modification into a compound formulation,” Woloszynek says.

They discovered that soybean oil could improve tire flexibility at low temperatures. This helps keep the rubber pliable in cold weather and improves traction in rain and snow simultaneously.

“One of the things that makes soybean oil unique is its ability to help provide traction performance in both wet and winter conditions,” says Woloszynek. “We were able to break the tradeoff between true wet performance and true winter performance and achieve both simultaneously, which is a significant challenge.”

Goodyear also found that soybean oil mixes more easily with rubber compounds used to make tires, leading to reduced energy consumption, therefore improving the manufacturing efficiency.

In addition to strong material compatibility, research also showed that soybean oil can be added directly to a rubber polymer during the rubber manufacturing process. This soy-based rubber is manufactured at one Goodyear location in Beaumont, Texas, and shipped as a single raw material to multiple tire plants.

After about four years of compositional study, Goodyear certified its soy-based polymer as an available material for new products.

Over the next year and a half, researchers and product developers worked together searching for the right opportunity to get the most out of their new polymer.

“We had to find the right technical gap where soybean oil could be leveraged to hit a performance target we previously could not achieve,” Woloszynek says.

That opportunity came when the company developed interest in adding a new all-season tire to its lineup that could perform aggressively in the dry and wet, as well as in ice and snow. The specialized traits of its soy-based rubber made it a perfect candidate for the task.

Putting soy through its paces

Although material development proved soybean oil could improve functionality and decrease waste, Goodyear had to ensure it would work well both in the construction process and on the road.

In 2015, Goodyear created 29 prototypes of the tire in two development sizes in its Fayetteville, North Carolina, plant. Constructions with soybean oil were pitted against non-soy-based options. Early testing put the soy tires well ahead of the competition.

“It separated itself as the favorite pretty early on,” says Woloszynek. “We started narrowing down the compound candidates, and after a while every candidate had soy in it.”

From there, it was a matter of tweaking formulations to make the best tire possible. Plants in various locations joined the effort to create refined prototypes of the tire and send them off for testing in environmental conditions.

Goodyear’s Proving Grounds in San Angelo, Texas, were used for warm-weather testing. There, wet- and dry-handling, traction, braking, rolling resistance, control and dozens of other performance factors were measured.

While they assessed warm-weather performance in the sweltering heat of east Texas, Goodyear conducted the WeatherReady’s winter testing in some of the coldest climates on Earth: Florida.

Eglin Air Force Base, located in the Florida panhandle, is home to the McKinley Climatic Laboratory, which has the ability to create truly apocalyptic environmental situations. Its hangar-sized chamber can reach minus 65 degrees Fahrenheit and produce conditions like ice, snow, freezing rain, extreme humidity, strong winds and blowing dust.

“Products are tested here when a test group wants to see how a tire works in cold temperatures,” says Anna Casella, a Goodyear construction engineer who designed the WeatherReady’s interior components. “It also provides a suitable testing depth for snow or ice.”

After each round of environmental testing, engineers tweaked compound formulations, plants created new prototypes, and scientists retested the updated constructions back in Florida and Texas until Goodyear struck the optimum balance of performance factors.

“With such a complex tire build, this was a joint effort between many groups,” said Lauren Brace, a Goodyear compound developer. “It was exciting to explore and expand our toolbox.”

The iterative process resulted in a soy-based tire that performs exceedingly well in all seasons and conditions. Soybean oil shined at each stage of the process, bringing new capabilities to Goodyear’s tire technology and supporting its commitment to innovation that leads to consumer benefits.

“I’m thrilled that the technology is now being put to use to bring value to Goodyear and its customers,” says Woloszynek. “In the end, soybean oil was one of the technologies enabling us to meet a challenging performance goal, and that’s something the entire team worked toward throughout the process. The support we received from the checkoff also played a significant role in the success of this project.”

Once engineers completed tire optimization, Goodyear evaluated the feasibility, logistics and cost-effectiveness of producing it on a commercial scale. The first soy-based tire checked all of the boxes and was cleared for production at plants across the Americas earlier this year.

From the farm to the lab to the back pocket

Soybeans on the road used to come exclusively from transport spillage. Now, soy-based tires hum a tune of farmer profitability on America’s highways and byways.

“After visiting Goodyear in 2013 and hearing about this future technology, I find it extremely gratifying to see this checkoff-supported, soy-based product reach the marketplace,” says USB Chairman Lewis Bainbridge.”

The research investments made by soybean farmers through the checkoff represent a small fraction of funds required to conduct the studies, development and testing done by Goodyear and other manufacturers to bring soy-based products to market. And yet, these relatively modest investments make a big impact for farmers.

“These success stories show us that we need to be constantly looking at the long-term prospects and doing research into new uses for soy ingredients,” Bainbridge says.

Each new soy product that hits the shelves not only increases soybean value directly through volume consumption, but also expands soy markets into new industries. This diversifies the soy portfolio and adds up to a solid return on investment by way of new customers for soybean oil.

To find out more about industrial uses for U.S. soy, visit www.soynewuses.org.