CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio—Goodyear plans to replace petroleum-derived processing oils with soybean oil in its tires by 2040 and increase its soybean oil consumption by 25 percent by 2020.
The lofty goal, disclosed in the company's most recent Corporate Responsibility Report, has a number of benefits.
Using a green technology is more sustainable, the company said, and it can capture a growing section of consumers who factor environmental concerns into their buying decisions. And it will be a boon for the U.S. soybean industry.
"Using soy to replace petroleum-based raw material provides a more sustainable and renewable product," said Gregg Fujan, United Soybean board director. "That's a win for manufacturers and consumers while providing another market opportunity for farmers."
But most importantly for Goodyear, using soybean oil is about building a better tire. "It's all about performance," a Goodyear spokesman said. "It's a green technology. It's sustainable. … But in the end, when consumers look to the Goodyear name and brand, they will buy our tires because of the performance."
Soybean oil allows for greater flexibility at lower temperatures. Providing better traction in the cold made it a perfect fit for production of all-weather tires.
Currently, Goodyear has three tire lines produced with soybean oil: the Assurance WeatherReady, Eagle Exhilarate and Eagle Enforcer All-Weather.
Goodyear started to develop the use of the soy oil in the tread compound of tires around 2011. While a number of different vegetable oils could be used, oil derived from soybeans became an obvious choice.
"Mostly because the U.S. is the largest producer of soybeans in the world," said Bob Woloszynek, a chief engineer with Goodyear. "It's abundant, and it's renewable."
"Most people don't realize that soy is primarily grown for protein meal for livestock feed," Fujan said. "That meal is about 80 percent of the bean; the balance is oil. When soybeans are processed, the meal is used mostly for animal feed, creating an abundant supply of oil."
Goodyear scientists, working with the support of the United Soybean Board, discovered soybean oil could improve tire performance at low temperatures. Soybean oil also mixed more easily with rubber compounds and reduced energy consumption in the mixing process, which can improve manufacturing efficiency.
"It was a multi-year process, and we found (soybean oil) is more compatible with other compounds, so there was a processing benefit," Woloszynek said. "It also had a very low glass transition temperature."
Woloszynek, along with Goodyear's Lauren Brace, gave a presentation on the firm's work with soybean oil during the recent ITEC in Focus: Green Tire conference in Cuyahoga Falls.
A low glass-transition temperature means increased flexibility at low temperatures, he said, helping the rubber to remain pliable in cold weather and enhancing traction in rain and snow.
"Fundamental development went quickly," Woloszynek said. "Polymer development and commercialization sort of happened at the same time."
Then, he added, it was a matter of finding the right application.
"There was a couple of ways that we could have leveraged soybean oil ... but (the Assurance) WeatherReady was the perfect combination," Woloszynek said.
In 2017, Goodyear introduced the Assurance WeatherReady line, now available in 48 sizes. The Assurance WeatherReady is Goodyear's Grand Touring All-Season tire designed for the drivers of family sedans, coupes, crossovers, SUVs and minivans.
The increased flexibility of the tire improves control in inclement weather. Assurance WeatherReady tires meet industry Severe Snow Service requirements and are branded with the industry's three-peak mountain snowflake symbol.
Development of the Assurance WeatherReady allowed for soybean oil to replace petroleum-derived oil in the tread compound and a 60 percent reduction of petroleum-based materials in the whole tire, according to Woloszynek.
The success of the Assurance WeatherReady paved the way for development of the Eagle Enforcer All Weather and Eagle Exhilarate.
The Eagle Enforcer All Weather is a police pursuit tire designed to provide year-round, responsive performance.
"This tire is for law enforcement agencies that need the enhanced winter traction of a mountain snowflake tire and the reliability and responsiveness of a pursuit tire," a Goodyear official said when the tire was announced in 2018.
Early in 2019, Goodyear introduced the Eagle Exhilarate line aimed at the ultra-high-performance market—drivers of the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, BMW 3-Series and Porsche Cayman, for example. The Eagle Exhilarate is designed to offer better traction and handling for faster acceleration and more precise control, especially in wet weather.
Performance is key
A Goodyear spokesman said performance is ultimately going to be the best point tire dealers can make when selling their lines of soybean oil-based tires.
The Assurance WeatherReady is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars on TireRack.com, and No. 2 in the website's "Grand Touring All-Season" rankings, just behind the Michelin CrossClimate+.
Consumer Reports ranks the Assurance WeatherReady as No. 4 in the vast "performance all-season" category with a score of 64.
Another point for tire dealers to consider is sustainability.
According to Nielsen Co. (US) L.L.C., a global measurement and data analytics company, 48 percent of U.S. consumers say they "would definitely or probably" change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. Since 2014, sales of sustainable products have risen 20 percent. By 2021, Nielsen expects consumers to spend $150 billion on sustainable products.
"A heavier concentration of consumers are more interested in companies and products who are helpful to our environment, and as dealers think about selling tires to consumers, soy is certainly a value proposition that is unique to Goodyear," the tire maker said.
Goodyear's research and development efforts involving the use of soybean oil in tire tread compounds earned the Akron-based tire maker a Tire Technology International Award for Innovation in the "Environmental Achievement of the Year" category at the 2018 Tire Technology Expo in Hanover, Germany.
Looking ahead, Woloszynek said Goodyear will continue to evaluate the use of soybean oil in tire production across multiple applications.