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Guess what your new tires are made of?

From fruit to nuts, manufacturers explore range of additives to boost fuel economy and grip

Published August 3, 2013

Tire research plods along nicely at a sedate pace. Innovations don’t come often. It’s evolution, not revolution — a tweak here, an extra sipe there and the tire is proclaimed new.

Not anymore. Consumer demand has turned this pattern on its ear.

The need for fuel economy is driving a push for better tires. A desire for better grip is, too.

To remain competitive, the big manufacturers have responded. Everyone now has a line of low-rolling resistance tires.

New tires are being introduced that have more grip and last longer. Thank powerful computers for this.

Computers can help design the tire, and then run endless tests on it, so it does not have to be built and put on a real car. Designs can be rejected or modified without the rubber touching the road.

Computers have helped create compounds that can be of lower rolling resistance for good fuel economy numbers, and still hold the car on a curvy road.

Single models of “eco” or “green” tires have blossomed into whole lines, which have sizes for most cars.

Bridgestone’s Ecopia tire, which boasts a 4-per-cent improvement in fuel economy, uses recycled materials in its construction to help cut down on the use of raw materials.

Michelin’s Green-X tires are designed for better fuel economy.

They have a Gretire talken-X tire in almost all tire categories.

Each model is tested to make sure that it maintains all the Michelin characteristics of grip and treadlife, and improves fuel economy.

Goodyear’s Assurance Fuel Max aims to save money at the gas pumps.

Pirelli last year started introducing SUV tires with “Verde” in their name. The line has better rolling resistance, is quieter and also has a longer tread life. Its manufacture makes less of an impact on the environment, too.

Interesting additions of waste products to the tire rubber mix come from computer simulations of molecular chains and how they interact.

Goodyear uses volcanic sand for extra grit in one of its best all-season tires. The manufacturer has even created tires that use different tread patterns on the same tire for different weather conditions.

Yokohama uses orange juice pulp because it bonds well with rubber, and provides extra grip in corners while using less gas when going straight down the road.

Toyo uses crushed walnuts in its winter tires.

Michelin was proud of its first green tire in 1992, in which silica was the hot new ingredient. Now, its computer modelling has created belt packages that can maintain a perfect contact patch, even as the tire is stressed under a heavy cornering load. The manufacturer’s research has led them to new exotic materials, such as Twaron, which is used to create strong, light reinforcing belts. Michelin’s high-performance tires now use two different tread compounds on opposite sides of the tire.

Bridgestone has noticed how well mussels stick to rocks, and is researching this to see if it will work for tires.

It won’t be making “mussel” car tires nor will you be driving on the “Seafood Special” Potenza.

The company is working to synthesize the molecular chain and use it in some of the tires’ elastomers.

After all, as Bridgestone says, “Nature was the first technology.”

wheels@thestar.ca

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