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New Technology Uses Food Waste to Make Tires

Business

By Marlene Cimons

Some day you may discover tomato peels and eggshells where the rubber meets the road.

The environment—not to mention your tires—will be better for it.

Researchers at Ohio State University have discovered that food waste, specifically tomato peels and eggshells, makes excellent filler for rubber tires, with tests showing they exceed industrial standards for performance. Filler is combined with rubber to make the rubber composite used in tires. Food waste could partially replace carbon black, the petroleum-based filler long used in tire manufacturing, which has become increasingly hard to come by.

This approach to manufacturing more environmentally-friendly materials complements ongoing efforts to develop sources of clean fuel. Using tomato peels and egg shells as tire filler could help reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, keep food waste out of landfills and make the production of rubber items—especially tires—more sustainable, according to Katrina Cornish, who holds an endowed chair in biomaterials at Ohio State University.

"If we hit a real shortfall in carbon black, we'll have to use something else," Cornish said. "You could use some nice eggshells. Many companies would like to have a green position and this is a good way to do that."

Pixabay

Food accounts for around one-fifth of the waste sent to landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Finding ways to keep food waste out of landfills not only saves space, but also helps in the fight against climate change. Bacteria turn food and yard trimmings found in landfills into methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

When properly processed, food waste can be used to generate energy, enrich the soil as a fertilizer or serve as a food source for animals. Now, it also could prove valuable in tire manufacturing.

Cornish has long been interested in developing new sources of rubber, as well as ways to enhance rubber products. So, when she came to Ohio State in 2010, she looked to food waste as a potential tire filler.

"I wrote to every food processor in the state and said: 'if you've got waste, we'd like to look at it,'" she said. "We received 35 different types of waste: batter drippings, sauerkraut juice, milk dust powder, among them—and eggshells and tomato peels. I'd always wanted to look at tomato peels because I spent a lot of time in California and would see all those produce trucks loaded with tomatoes and knew they had to have thick, tough skins so the ones on top didn't squash the ones on the bottom."

Initially, Cornish had doubts as to how well eggshells would work. Eggshells are composed largely of calcium carbonate, which is used as an extender, rather than a reinforcer. The latter is more useful as tire filler. But Cornish discovered to her delight that her doubts were misplaced. Eggshells have a porous architecture that provides a larger surface area for contact with the rubber and proved to be reinforcing.

"We were very excited," she said. "It added considerably more value than expected." They also found that tomato peels are very stable at high temperatures and can generate material that performs well.

"Fillers generally make rubber stronger, but they also make it less flexible," said Cindy Barrera, a postdoctoral researcher in Cornish's lab. "We found that replacing carbon black with ground eggshells and tomato peels caused synergistic effects, for instance, enabling strong rubber to retain flexibility."

It also turned the rubber reddish brown—depending on the amount of eggshell or tomato in it—rather than the black appearance that results from using carbon black. About 30 percent of a typical automobile tire is made of carbon black, the cost of which varies with petroleum prices. American companies most often purchase carbon black from foreign sources, according to Cornish.

"The tire industry is growing very quickly and we don't just need more natural rubber. We need more filler too," Cornish said. "The number of tires 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…"

Particles of tomato peels and eggshells used by to make rubber composite. Katrina Cornish

Cornish and her colleagues' research on potential tire fillers has appeared in the Journal of Polymers and the Environment and elsewhere.

The U.S. produces around 80 billion eggs annually, according to the United Egg Producers. Cornish said that commercial food factories crack open half of them, then pay to send the remains to a landfill, where the mineral-loaded shells do not break down. "Nothing much happens to them in a landfill, since there are no calcium-eating animals," she said. "They are mostly rock."

The U.S. grows around 15 million tons of the ever-popular tomato, according to the Department of Agriculture. Most of that is canned or in processed products. When food companies make tomato sauce, for example, they peel and discard the skin, which is difficult to digest, she said.

Cornish is concerned about deforestation that results from planting new rubber trees and she has been researching rubber alternatives, including the rubber dandelion. While they are unmistakably dandelions, they are not the same as what many homeowners regard as annoying lawn and garden intruders.

Cornish explained that their leaves are thicker and bluer and the flowers are smaller. Most importantly, its taproot yields a milky fluid with natural rubber particles in it.

The rubber dandelion can be used to make tires. Biobased World

"The rubber dandelion comes from northwest China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but it can grow in snowy areas of Ohio," she said. "But it is not very sturdy, so we are trying to make it stronger and higher yielding." If successful, "it could grow as an annual crop and it could create many processing jobs," she added.

Meanwhile, Ohio State has licensed Cornish's technology for turning food waste into tire filler to her company, EnergyEne, for further development. Cornish stresses, however, that no one will start collecting "the eggshells from your breakfast," she said. "Kitchen waste is not going to go this way. So keep on with your compost piles. In fact, maybe you can use them to grow rubber dandelions."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

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The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images

By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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