TOKYO — Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. (YRC) is reporting it has made advancements in both natural and synthetic rubber that could enhance the sustainability of both NR plantations and production of isoprene, a synthetic rubber building block.
In natural rubber, YRC has carried out research studies with two Thai universities designed to help improve the quality and sustainable development of NR plantations.
The research with Mahidol University, which started in 2013, analyzed proteins contained in NR latex to identify the proteins involved in NR biosynthesis, YRC said.
Bangkok-based Mahidol University is said to be Thailand's top-ranked university and has demonstrated particularly strengths in the field of natural rubber research.
YRC's study involved the extraction and nano-level analysis of more than 800 kinds of proteins contained in latex, some of which were found to be related to natural rubber biosynthesis and stress resistance.
In addition, the researchers compared proteins from a variety of Para rubber trees, identifying the proteins that promote or inhibit biosynthesis, YRC stated.
The other program, at Prince of Songkla University, focused on analyzing the differences in latex related to different seasons and regions, different varieties and different processing methods.
Prince of Songkla University campus is located in Thailand's Surat Thani Province, which also is home to YT Rubber Co. Ltd, YRC's natural rubber processing company in Thailand.
YRC linked both research projects to its efforts to increase the sustainability of natural rubber plantations and ensure more stable income for rubber tree growers.
Regarding isoprene, YRC is claiming to have developed the "world's first technology" capable of producing isoprene from a biomass efficiently.
Isoprene is a raw material in the production of synthetic rubber and is produced conventionally as a by-product of naphtha pyrolysis.
YRC, Riken and Zeon began their joint research in 2013 and discovered a new isoprene-synthesising process using a computer-based in-silico metabolic design technology within two years.
The trio further developed the new technology, creating cells with "excellent isoprene-synthesizing capability" based on a new artificial pathway and highly active enzymes.
The cells, created through the technology, have the in-vivo capability of generating isoprene from a biomass — typically sugar, YRC said. This serves as the starting material.
The in-vivo generated isoprene is then polymerized to achieve the synthesis of polyisoprene rubber.
Explaining the process, Yokohama said that it is widely understood that isoprene is produced naturally from mevalonic acid — an intermediate substance formed from sugar — through a five-stage reaction.
"But the new artificial pathway constructed through the joint research reduces that process to two stages," said the Japanese tire and rubber company.
Yokohama also claims that the highly active enzymes possess "a phenomenal isoprene-producing capability that is not achievable by natural enzymes."
"Introducing this artificial pathway and these enzymes into colon bacilli gives the bacteria an isoprene-generating ability that it lacks in nature and enables an efficient artificial synthesis of isoprene," Yokohama added.
The company has also confirmed that this technology can also be applied to butadiene-based synthetic rubber and other diene rubbers.