The Race for Bio-Based Tire Additives: Amyris and Kuraray Come out in Front

Early March gave us two announcements pertaining to bio-based additives in car tires: American Process (API) announced a joint development agreement (JDA) with Birla Carbon to combine nanocellulose and carbon black in tires; and Amyris announced that Sumitomo Rubber has adopted the liquid farnesene rubber (LFR) developed with Kuraray for Dunlop-branded Winter Maxx 02 tires. Because downstream application development is one of the biggest challenges for new bio-based materials (see the report “Navigating the Web of Bio-based Performance Materials” [client registration required]), we chose to evaluate how well the materials fit the announced applications:

  • API and Birla Carbon announce JDA to combine nanocellulose and carbon black for tires (Lux Take: Caution). API and Birla Carbon signed a JDA to “explore the technical and business potential of combining carbon black and nanocellulose products to significantly lower the rolling resistance of tires.” Use of nanocellulose was motivated by its sustainability, as well as its ability to improve strength, durability, and toughness of composites, often displaying “unique synergistic effects” when combined with other additives, such as carbon black. While this partnership, at a high level, might seem promising because it targets a specific downstream application, it is not clear whether or not there is any value to combining nanocellulose with carbon black for tires. While the partnership’s goal is to reduce the rolling resistance of tires, nanocellulose would primarily improve properties such as strength, durability, and toughness. Moreover, it is unclear what “unique synergistic effects” would result from the combination of nanocellulose and carbon black. Readers should view this partnership as a marketing strategy that is unlikely to ever yield a commercially viable tire.
  • Sumitomo uses Amyris and Kuraray’s LFR for tires (Lux Take: Positive). Amyris announced that Sumitomo has adopted LFR, developed by Amyris and Kuraray, as an additive in its Dunlop Winter Maxx 02 tires. These tires provide Dunlop’s best tire, to date, for durability and for on-ice and snow-braking performance. This announcement follows Amyris’ and Kuraray’s previous announcement of the extension of their collaboration for LFR. However, while the previous announcement focused on increased marketing between the two partners, this announcement already shows the value of LFR and the increased marketing, in the form of a commercial product from Sumitomo that takes advantages of LFR’s increased performance. Moreover, while LFR likely costs more than conventional isoprene, Amyris and Kuraray developed LFR as an additive, minimizing material used while still reaping performance benefits. Readers should view this as the continuation of an exemplary partnership between Amyris and Kuraray to develop a material with improved performance that has specific use cases in end applications.

Although both API and Amyris identified tires as applications for their bio-based additives, only Amyris identified exactly how its LFR would improve the durability of tires, while it is unclear how API’s nanocellulose will reduce rolling resistance. Although both materials present intriguing properties, only Amyris’ LFR has demonstrated added value for its identified end use (see the webinar “The New Face of Bio-based: How Performance Enables Sustainability in Tomorrow’s Products”). Readers aiming to commercialize bio-based materials should work to not only identify specific applications, but to also develop materials that add value to the identified application.

By: Gihan Hewage