Children on a tire swing (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

New research may give old tires a new, environmentally-friendly future.

A research team led by Hassan S. Bazzi, at the Texas A&M University campus in Qatar may have come up with a way to make tires with biodegradable materials. If they are right, they might be able to help solve the myriad problems that come with the estimated 1 billion tires that wear out each year worldwide.

Leftover rubber tires have been the bane of landfills — and environmentalists — for decades. It’s unclear, for example, how long it takes for tires to decompose. And if they do eventually decompose, the tires contain some nasty chemicals that can leach into the soil.

The Texas A&M researchers realized they could string cyclopentene molecules — a byproduct of oil refining — together to make polypentenamers, which are similar to natural rubber.

They are conducting experiments to see if the new synthetic rubber can be mixed with other materials and fillers that go into the modern tire.

If it works, the researchers might be able to create a new kind of rubber that is as strong as synthetics that are used in current tires, but that is easy to biodegrade and reuse.

Robert Tuba, one of the lead researchers on the project, says the goal was to create something “that is good for the community and the environment.” The researchers say they have an industry partner and hope the biodegradable rubber will eventually hit the road.