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 2mpg – quickly recouping the slight increase in up-front costs.
Equipping all US vehicles with green tires could save more than one billion gallons of gas per year. Savings of this magnitude would considerably reduce US 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 haven’t 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 the ever-increasing use of 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 that is 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%. PolyDyne powder is now in use by seven of the top 10 tire companies, and 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% loadings. This increase will greatly 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 in 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.
Tom Rosenmayer leads technology and business development at Lehigh Technologies. He has more than 20 years of experience in business development at large technology companies, including Baker-Hughes, IBM Corp., and WL Gore. He has a PhD in Materials Engineering from Rice University in Houston, Texas, and is a co-author on numerous publications and patents.