Your Tires May Soon Contain Tomatoes

We’re big fans of innovative solutions to food waste around here, but every now and then, a new development comes as a surprise – like this one: tomato tires.

Dr. Katrina Cornish of Ohio State University is knee-deep in produce refuse as she explores alternatives to carbon black, a key component in tire manufacture. Cornish found that compounds made from tomato skins and eggshells worked just as well — and offered a whole lot of benefits.

While we may think tires are simply made of “rubber,” they contain more than meets the eye. Tires are typically reinforced with various materials – for instance, around 30 percent of the tire is actually made from carbon black, which increases durability. It also, as you might expect, turns tires black.

But this isn’t the only creative approach to producing tires while also conserving resources and protecting the planet — Goodyear is working on a soy-based alternative.

Working with carbon black is no picnic. Research indicates that workers exposed to the material can experience health problems. And like all petroleum products, it isn’t sustainable.

Additionally, carbon black often comes from outside the U.S. Researchers warn that it is becoming more challenging to locate a stable supply, which means bad news for American manufacturing. Demand for tires of all types is too high to risk supply chain interruptions.

And that’s why Cornish began applying her knowledge to developing a more sustainable filler that would offer the same benefits, including increasing tire elasticity and performance at high temperatures. She discovered that both tomato skins and eggshells fit the picture nicely, and they’re a fantastic way to use up food waste.

After all, people don’t eat eggshells, but they eat a whole lot of eggs, and this diverts the discarded shells from the landfill. As for those tomato skins, commercial production of ketchup, tomato sauce, tomato paste and a range of other products often involves skinning the tomatoes and tossing the remains.

Making tire production more sustainable is, of course, only part of the picture. Cars themselves still contain a number of components that cause environmental harm — a few tomatoes in the tires won’t offset greenhouse gas emissions. Cyclists may also enjoy the sensation of biking on eggshells as alternatives target the bicycling community.

Despite larger environmental challenges, these inventive tires are a good start. The innovation illustrates that there are creative — and fascinating — solutions to a range of challenging problems, including environmental concerns about products we’ve been making the same way for decades. Rather than remaining confined to tradition, we might as well push the envelope on sustainability!

It’s going to take a while before you can pick up a set of tomato tires for yourself, however. Now that the research shows the idea is viable, a lot of work remains to make it scaleable, meet government standards and get tires into production. This is the first step in what may be a lengthy journey.

Incidentally, the resulting materials lack the distinctive black we’ve come to associate with the rubber used in tires. Instead, they’re a lovely reddish brown — and that much closer to green.

Photo credit: Oregon Department of Transportation

62 comments

Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill1 years ago

Oh great. Another use to take food away from starving people.

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Philippa Powers
Philippa Powers1 years ago

Sounds like a winner to me!

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heather g
heather g1 years ago

The oil that tyres emit while travelling sends many toxins into the air. And that also goes into our lungs. So any alternatives would be an improvement, if it's green.

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Telica R
Telica R1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Diana D
Diana D1 years ago

This is very interesting. Hope it goes somewhere. It's a start and every little bit helps!
Thanks for sharing.

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Danuta W
Danuta W1 years ago

Thank you for sharing

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earthism info
earthism info1 years ago

good decision

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Elaine D
Elaine D1 years ago

Thank you

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william Miller
william Miller1 years ago

thanks

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