The Next Generation of Tires: Green, Sustainable and Renewable

By: Tom Rosenmayer

Every revolution of a tire consumes energy. Internal friction during each revolution creates wasted heat and lost energy, typically referred to as “rolling resistance.”  Fuel-efficient “green” tires designed to minimize rolling resistance represent the fastest growing segment of the tire industry today.
 
But it’s not easy being green. Green tires must deliver superior fuel economy while also meeting all other requirements for durability, safety, and comfort. This requires state-of-the-art design, materials, and construction techniques – and it costs a little more. Yet the price is worth it. According to Consumer Reports, green tires improve fuel economy by 2 miles per gallon (mpg) – quickly recouping the slight increase in up-front costs. Equipping the U.S. vehicle fleet with green tires could save more than 1 billion gallons of gas per year. Savings of this magnitude would considerably reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil and decrease national carbon dioxide emissions.
 
So why don’t we do this? Well, the up-front cost is one reason. Another is that typically, green tires have not used cost-saving renewable materials to keep the price low, because these materials have not delivered the necessary fuel-economy performance. 
 
This is changing, however, thanks to new technology developed by Lehigh’s Application and Development Center (ADC).  We have developed new materials and compounding technologies that are enabling ever-increasing use renewable materials in green tires. Lehigh’s functional compounds and silica-neutral formulations, for example, show excellent results for both wet traction and fuel economy, a combination normally very difficult to pull off. 
 
Lehigh’s workhorse product for the tire industry, PolyDyne® micronized rubber powder, when properly formulated into silica-neutral green tire formulas, shows excellent performance at loadings up to 10 percent. PolyDyne powder is now in use by 7 of the top 10 tire companies; more than 400 million tires have been made using this proven technology.
 
Lehigh is also constantly innovating to improve the percentage of sustainable, renewable materials that can be used in green tires: Lehigh’s new EkoDyne® compound will enable up to 20 percent loadings. The increase will significantly reduce the usage of oil-derived, non-sustainable materials, and make green tires more affordable. By making green tires more affordable, adoption rates will increase, resulting more wide-spread cost savings and environmental benefits.

With advanced technology such as EkoDyne compound, it is possible to have the best of both worlds: cost-effective and fuel-efficient green tires. This breakthrough material, with its unique and proprietary microstructure, is currently under evaluation by major tire companies. Lehigh is currently building its first EkoDyne production line to support commercialization in 2017.

The future is here and Lehigh Technologies is leading the way.