Research at The Ohio State University is exploring the possibility of recycling food waste to partially replace the petroleum-based filler that has been used in manufacturing tyres for more than a century.
According to the university’s researchers, in tests, rubber made with the new fillers exceeds industrial standards for performance, which may ultimately open up new applications for rubber.
As Dr Katrina Cornish explained, the technology has the potential to solve three problems: It makes the manufacture of rubber products more sustainable, reduce dependence on foreign oil and keeps waste out of landfills.
The University explained that Cornish, a Research Scholar and Endowed Chair in Biomaterials at Ohio State, has spent years cultivating new domestic rubber sources, including a rubber-producing dandelion. She now has a patent-pending method for turning eggshells and tomato peels into viable, and locally sourced, replacements for carbon black, a petroleum-based filler that American companies often purchase from overseas.
According to the university around 30% of a typical automobile tyre is carbon black. It is the reason tyres appear black and it makes the rubber durable, but its cost varies with petroleum prices and according to Cornish it is getting harder to come by.
“The tyre industry is growing very quickly, and we don’t just need more natural rubber, we need more filler, too,” she explained. “The number of tyres being produced worldwide is going up all the time, so countries are using all the carbon black they can make.
There’s no longer a surplus, so we can’t just buy some from Russia to make up the difference like we used to. At the same time we need to have more sustainability,” she added.
The university said that for those reasons Cornish and her team are recycling eggshells and other food waste from Ohio food producers.
“We’re not suggesting that we collect the eggshells from your breakfast,” Cornish said. “We’re going right to the biggest source.”
Eggstreamly Promising Feedstocks
The university noted USDA figures which show that Americans consume nearly 100 billion eggs each year. Half are cracked open in commercial food factories, which pay to have the shells hauled to landfill – where the mineral-packed shells don’t break down.
The second most popular vegetable in the United States, the tomato, was also said to provide a source of filler. Americans eat 13 million tons of tomatoes per year, most of them canned or otherwise processed.
According to the university commercial tomatoes have been bred to grow thick, fibrous skins so that they can survive being packed and transported long distances. When food companies want to make a product such as tomato sauce, they peel and discard the skin, which isn’t easily digestible.
Cindy Barrera, a postdoctoral researcher in Cornish’s lab, found in tests that eggshells have porous microstructures that provide larger surface area for contact with the rubber, and give rubber-based materials unusual properties. Tomato peels, on the other hand, are highly stable at high temperatures and can also be used to generate material with good performance.
“Fillers generally make rubber stronger, but they also make it less flexible,” Barrera said. “We found that replacing different portions of carbon black with ground eggshells and tomato peels caused synergistic effects—for instance, enabling strong rubber to retain flexibility.”
“We may find that we can pursue many applications that were not possible before with natural rubber,” Cornish added.
The new rubber doesn’t look black, but rather reddish brown, depending on the amount of eggshell or tomato in it. With doctoral student Tony Ren, Cornish and Barrera are now testing different combinations and looking at ways to add colour to the materials.
Current Ohio State doctoral student Jessica Slutzky and former master’s student Griffin Michael Bates participated in the research.
The university has licensed the patent-pending technology to Cornish’s company, EnergyEne, for further development.
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