Alternative Rubber Source for Tires Closer to Reality

Guayule Plants

A recent article in the New York Times reports that Cooper Tire is close to developing a tire made from rubber derived from the guayule plant, a desert shrub grown in the Southwest. This is an important development as traditional rubber sources have become more costly and may not be adequate for future demand. According to the article:

“Tire executives say that global demand for tires, which use as much as 70 percent of the world’s rubber supply, will expand as less developed nations industrialize, requiring roughly 21 million additional acres of hevea, the source of natural rubber, by 2024.”

Petroleum has been used to make a synthetic form of rubber since World War II, when the US was cut off from natural rubber sources. According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, about 70% of all rubber used in manufacturing is synthetic, and around seven gallons of petroleum are needed to produce one tire.

Both economically and environmentally, another natural rubber source would be a highly beneficial discovery. Guayule is much easier to grow than the rubber trees from which hevea is derived. Rubber trees require a hot, damp climate, and grow only in Southeast Asia and Africa. Guayale does lack some of the attributes that hevea offers, such as resistance to cracking and the ability to prevent high heat buildup, which has presented a challenge developers are working to solve.

Cooper expects to make a make a complete tire from guayule-derived parts by early 2017. Along with Copper, many other researchers are working on the development of guayule as a practical rubber source for other industries.

Airless Tires Roll Into Paris Motor Show

According to CNET reporting, many new concepts were revealed at the 2014 Paris Motor Show, held this past week, but as far as I am concerned, the most exciting was Bridgestone’s second-generation prototype of its Air Free tire. This design improves upon the debut prototype, introduced in 2011, with better shock absorption.

Bridgestone is not alone in its pursuit to perfect the airless tire. You may recall my post about airless tires for military vehicles, or have heard about other airless tire concepts in the works from manufacturers including Michelin and Hankook.  But Bridgestone’s release of this newest prototype indicates that the industry leader may be close to having a consumer product ready to roll out within the next few years.

Bridgestone’s Air Free tire design replaces the cushion of air in conventional tires with an array of shock-absorbing resin bands that resemble thick, angled spokes. The outer surface of the airless tire is coated with a replaceable tread comprised of a thin band of solid rubber.

While improvements have been made to the Air Free tire’s shock absorption, there is still an issue of lateral stiffness that needs to be worked out before it is ready for market. Testing is set to begin with Toyota single-passenger vehicles within a year.

In addition to eliminating the hazards posed by blow-outs, the Bridgestone Air Free tire is designed to be completely recyclable, meaning that it would be safer for the environment while providing a safer ride.

New Study Reveals Teen Drivers Lack Basic Safety Knowledge

While most teens are more than excited to get that coveted driver’s permit, a new study just released by Michelin and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile reveals that teen drivers may be less than ready to drive, lacking the basic safe driving knowledge and skills they need.  According to the study, this lack of education may result in nearly 300,000 preventable car crashes involving inexperienced drivers each year.

According to the study, which surveyed 1,001 U.S. teen drivers ranging from 15 to 17 years along with their parents, many of these young drivers lack the ability to change a tire, spot insufficient tread depth, or check tire pressure. This knowledge gap has led to serious consequences:

“Of the 2.2 million vehicle accidents per year, 12 percent are among inexperienced drivers and involve tire-related issues such as insufficient tire tread or improperly inflated tires, a number which is nearly three times higher than with experienced drivers. That equates to one accident every two minutes.”

Michelin North America Inc. Chairman Pete Selleck wants to raise awareness about the issue, and  wants to see driver education programs address the issue of preventable accidents, which too often end in death. He’d like to see state governments expand or add tire-safety education in driver-education courses. Reportedly, only 16 states currently require tire-safety information as part of their driver education programs. As Selleck notes, “It’s troubling to see this data and know that underinflated tires, or tires with worn treads are contributing to these accidents.”

If you have a teen driver at home, contact your driver education instructor to see if they include tire safety programs. If not, take some time to educate them on topics like handling a blow out, handling hydroplaning, and proper tire care. Investing the time now will lead to safe driving habits for a lifetime!

Winter Driving & New Studded Tire Technology

This crazy winter has presented drivers across the nation with some serious driving challenges. While the Northern states have been hit hard, they have the advantage of ready road crews, vehicles fitted with snow tires, and drivers experienced with maneuvering through sleet, slush, and snow. The worst issues seem to have been for Southern states, which are not prepared for winter driving. In many of these areas, preparation for snow and ice is just not normally necessary, for both municipal budgets and individual drivers.  A recent development I read about got my wheels turning on this subject. It is a retractable studded tire:

These tires are fitted with studs that extend and retract with the push of a control button located on the  dashboard. Studs are ready for use when needed, and gone when not needed. This tire technology is currently under development by Nokian Tyre, a tire manufacturer that specializes in products for snow and other harsh driving conditions. While these non-studded tires with studs are probably not going to be available to the public any time soon, they may be a common feature in cars of the future, meaning snow and ice will be less of a problem for all drivers, no matter where they live.

As we await the development of technical solutions to winter driving woes, here are a  few safe winter driving reminders:

  • Take it easy –  always drive a little slower during winter conditions.
  • Keep in mind that it takes longer to stop a vehicle on ice and snow. Double the anticipated stopping distance when braking anytime conditions are not dry.
  • Don’t expect a four-wheel drive vehicle to have better braking ability than a two-wheel drive vehicle. An SUV will not stop faster than a sedan.
  • Be sure to install four winter tires, not just two. You need a full set to gain all of the handling and traction benefits, and to be sure all tires have the same grip capabilities.

Free “SaferCar” App for iPhone

A new free mobile app released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now available for iPhone and iPod Touch users. The app provides real-time information to help consumers “Buy Safe, Drive Safe, and Stay Safe.”

The SaferCar app  gives consumers on demand access to important safety information to help them make informed decisions. Features include:

  • 5-Star Safety Ratings: Car shoppers can look up crash test ratings and compare them across different makes and models.
  • Recalls and Complaints: Drivers can stay on top of safety issues for vehicles they own by registering their vehicles to be notified by NHTSA if a safety issue is discovered. The app also provides an easy way to submit complaints to NHTSA regarding potential safety issues with a particular vehicle.
  • Child Seat Installation Assistance: The app helps users to readily access driving directions to the nearest child seat inspection station and get knowledgeable assistance in properly installing car seats and booster seats.
  • Safety Headlines and Alerts: Users can receive essential news and information from NHTSA, as well as recall notices and push notices on their recorded vehicles.

For now, the SaferCar app is only available for iPhone and iPod Touch devices, and can be downloaded from Apple’s iTunes Store. Development is currently underway for an Android version of the SaferCar app.

Tire News: Air-free and Care-free

Non-Pneumatic Tires - Fox Car Report

Occasionally there are interesting developments in the tire industry that I like to share with my readers. This one relates to a recent post Talkin’ Tires post on the topic of run-flat tires. The run-flat is a type of “blowout-proof” tire, which is still susceptible to pressure loss limitation. There is another kind of tire on the horizon that is even more impervious to damage,  and it may be one step closer to reality for consumers.

Wisconsin-based Resilient Technologies has been developing a patent-pending design for non-pneumatic (airless) tires since 2005. The tires  are made from a proprietary plastic and feature a honeycomb-like structure, which allows the tire to remain rigid without the need for air-filled support. The three main elements of the tire include an inner steel rim, the honeycomb support structure, and a rubber tread band with makes contact with driving surfaces. Since pressure is never a factor, damage to the outer band from tears or punctures do not compromise the tire performance. These tires have been in use in military applications and have proven successful in withstanding damage and performing reliably in hostile situations requiring continuous mobility.

Bridgestone, Michelin and other leading tire manufacturers have also invested research into the development of their own iterations of the non-pneumatic tire, but are still a long way away from rolling  out a consumer version. But according to a recent Fox Car Report, an ATV version will soon be available. Off-road vehicle manufacturer Polaris, which acquired Resilient Technology, plans to release an ATV model for consumers as early as next year.

While time will tell how this new tire design fares down the road, the NPT tire as some impressive military grade testing behind it. According to the report:

“Engineers shot test tires with 50-caliber rounds from an AK-47 and then subjected them to 5,000 hours of off-roading. On another outing that involved crossing a train tracks, a rail spike punctured the tread band of an NPT, but the rider kept going on it for more than 1,000 miles.”

Stay tuned for more on this air-free up-and-comer.

Tire Pressure Okay? Ask Your Car!

Dear Tracy,

I have heard that some new cars come equipped with an internal system that monitors tire pressure. Can you tell me if this type of system can be put in any car, and how the system works?

-Katherine R.

Dear Katherine,

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) is an electronic system installed within a vehicle to continuously monitor the air pressure of all four tires. The TPMS alerts the driver, typically through a warning light on the dashboard, when tire pressure falls below a preset limit.

TPMS Indicator

TPMS Indicator Light, image courtesy of www.safecar.gov

There are two types of TPMS –direct and indirect. A direct TPMS is designed with a pressure sensor on each tire, usually on the valve stem or band mounted. The sensors employed by direct systems operate by separate lithium batteries, which eventually die. This means that the TPMS needs to be serviced and should be part of regularly scheduled maintenance.

Indirect TPMS technology is based on the calculation of factors, beginning with the fact that a tire’s over-all diameter is smaller when it is not properly inflated. A wheel that is smaller than the other three will have to spin faster to keep up. Wheel speed sensors applied at each wheel position identify an underinflated tire by comparing the rotational speed of each wheel with the average speed of all four wheels to determine if one is spinning significantly faster than the others. While the indirect system does not require servicing, the design does have some issues, including the snag that if all four tires are underinflated, the system may not detect a problem.

For vehicles that do not have TPMS installed, portable systems are available and can be installed by a qualified service professional. In the future, this will not be an issue because as of 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has required that all passenger cars, light trucks and vans (Gross weight less than 10,000 pounds) be equipped with a TPMS.

Tire News: Goodyear Discovers Soybean Oil Benefits for Tire Manufacturing

Dear Readers,

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company released the exciting news today! The company’s Innovation Center researchers have discovered that soybean oil may have many benefits in the manufacture of tires. This is exciting news, not just for tire enthusiasts like me, but for anyone who’s been worried about increasing tire prices or concerned about the effects of manufacturing on the environment.

According to Goodyear, testing has indicated that the use of soybean oil in tires has the potential to increase tread life by 10 percent. They also predict that the use of soybean oil may reduce the use of petroleum-based oil in their tire manufacturing by as much as seven million gallons per year. Testing has also shown that soybean oil blends well with the silica used in making tires. Goodyear says this would result in better efficiency and reduced energy consumption in the tire making process.

As it looks right now, the benefits of soybean oil in tire manufacturing are there for all sides. It is good news for vehicle owners who want to get the most value from their tire investment. For manufacturers, it is expected to increase efficiency and energy savings. And replacing petroleum with a renewable resource should be better for the environment. If the testing continues to go well, the company expects to be able to offer tires manufactured with soybean oil to consumers by 2015.

In addition to the research being done on soybean oil, Goodyear is currently engaged in other projects focusing on the use of renewable raw materials. To learn more, you can read the news release on Good Year’s corporate website.

Wishing you safe roads and happy travels,

Tracy