Long range electric vehicles hold the key to ridding the transport sector of petroleum liquid fuels, as long as the energy stored in the batteries comes from renewable energy sources. But even a Tesla charged from solar panels isn’t completely free of fossil fuels. Even ignoring the fossil fuel-derived energy that went in the manufacturing process, there are still plastic finishings inside the car that likely come petroleum. And even if you’d be extremely careful not to include anything fossil fuel related, you’d still hit a brick wall — the car’s tires.
Wheels of progress Car tires are some of the most environmentally unfriendly parts in any car. These are made from natural rubber, which literally grows on trees, but also isoprene — a key molecule in any tire which is derived from petroleum through a chemical process called ‘cracking’. Developing tires from renewable materials has always been a lofty goal for scientists but despite their best efforts, this has proven extremely challenging until recently. Now, a team from the University of Minnesota claims it has perfected a three-step chemical process that can produce isoprene from renewable biomass such as trees or grasses.