What do oranges, dandelions and vegetable or soybean oil have in common? They’re the new wave of ingredients in tires. In an effort to curtail environmental impact and deflect the increasing demand for rubber, tire manufacturers are exploring alternative methods to produce tires. Current estimates theorize that global demand for rubber will exceed supply in 2020 by 20 percent, according to GreenCarReports.com. New engineering techniques and materials are contributing to the next generation of tires.
A tire’s carbon footprint over its lifespan can largely be contributed to its effect on gas mileage rather than its raw material composition. “We found that 86 percent of the tire’s environmental impact revolves around how it affects fuel consumption,” stated Forrest Patterson, the technical director for passenger car and light truck tires at Michelin North America, according to NYTimes.com.
Low-rolling resistance tires are motorists’ best shot at reducing fuel consumption. Modern low-rolling resistance tires no long sacrifice cornering and braking ability for less gas. Companies such as Continental Tire is using novel rubber polymers in its ContiEcoContact tires. Its long-chain polymers ensure low rolling resistance while short chain polymers stiffen when braking or making aggressive turns. In the Energy Saver series, Michelin tires utilize sipes, minuscule cuts in the tire tread that minimize heat and rolling resistance, according to GreenCarReports.com.
To reverse the trend of increased petroleum content, tire manufacturers and engineers are looking into unconventional materials. According to NYTimes.com, Sumitomo Rubber Industries was one of the first to produce a more ecological tire. Sumitomo engineers slashed the amount of petrochemicals by reducing synthetic rubber in half for their Enasave tire. Carbon black filler, which is derived from coal, charcoal or oil, is another primary tire material that was also cut drastically. Vegetable processing oil was used in lieu of petroleum, and plant cellulose fibers were used to reinforce the compounds. By this year, Sumitomo hopes to begin marketing a new tire line completely absent of all petrochemicals.
Orange Oil— Orange oil-infused natural rubber allows Yokohama Tire Corporation to cut 80 percent of the petroleum necessary in tire manufacturing (GreenCarReports.com). Discarded orange peels from orange juice manufacturers are used to extract the orange oil. Yokohama’s dB Super E-Spec tires lower rolling resistance and thus improves fuel efficiency. In fact, the E-Spec is two pounds lighter and lowers rolling resistance up to 20 percent in comparison to the Toyota Prius’ low-resistance tires. The E-Specs also allow significantly less air to escape by virtue of its inner liner.
Dandelion Latex— In five to 10 years, you may find that fuzzy yellow weed in your tires. Dandelion roots contain latex, the source for natural rubber. The Dutch biotech firm KeyGene, believes that the roots of this common garden weed can be developed into a valuable latex source, according to CNN.com. However, there’s a catch: dandelion root size is less than ideal. Seeing this as little more than a hurdle, KeyGene is placing the dandelion through a plant phenotyping process to locate beneficial mutations. Isolating these mutations to develop new strains with enlarged roots will yield more latex—which is more advantageous to industrial processing. The multinational tire manufacturer, Apollo Vredestein sees potential in commercial dandelion tires and is collaborating with KeyGene.