Revolutionising the Road: Sustainability and the Innovation of New Tyres

Stack of new tyres on a shelf

New sustainability efforts from Goodyear as they unveil their 90% sustainable-material demonstration tire. This comes alongside announcements from Michelin of New Airless Tyres.

The automotive industry, in its pursuit of sustainability, is turning its attention to an often overlooked but critical component: tyres. Tyres, integral to the safety and performance of vehicles, have come under scrutiny for their environmental impact. However, amidst concerns, there is a glimmer of hope in the form of revolutionary technologies such as Michelin’s airless tyre. This article explores the sustainability aims within the tyre industry, delves into the environmental challenges posed by conventional tyres, and examines the potential of airless tyres to reshape the landscape of both transportation and environmental conservation.

The Environmental Impact of Conventional Tyres: A Roadblock to Sustainability

Tyres, crafted from from synthetic rubber, a derivative of crude oil, and contain a number of toxic organic compounds and have a significant ecological footprint. Findings from a 2019 study revealed that the phase of a car tire’s life cycle with the highest energy absorption is during its use. The study identified that the most detrimental impact is associated with the depletion of natural resources and the release of emissions into the atmosphere.

A tyre landfill site

Moreover, when tyres reach the end of their lifecycle, they pose environmental challenges. The disposal of tyres has been associated with numerous environmental issues, with millions of tyres ending up in landfills globally. These tyre dumps not only occupy large amounts of space but also pose fire hazards, releasing harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.

Sustainable Initiatives in the Tyre Industry: Traction Towards a Greener Future

Recognising the environmental challenges posed by conventional tyres, the tyre industry has started to pivot towards sustainability.

What are Eco Tyres?

An eco-friendly or green tire is a type designed with a strong focus on environmental sustainability compared to conventional tires. These tires employ materials that are not only more sustainable but also carry a reduced environmental impact.

Crafted predominantly from natural rubber, organic cotton, and various other eco-friendly elements, these tires actively work to minimise the energy requirements for their production while concurrently reducing waste generation. With a comprehensive list of ingredients surpassing 200 components, incorporating over 20 types of rubber, each contributing unique and advantageous features, these tires showcase a commitment to both performance and eco-consciousness. The incorporation of silica in their composition elevates road grip, ensuring superior traction.

In addition to their environmentally considerate composition, green tires exhibit remarkable durability, providing heightened grip, improved braking capabilities, and increased fuel efficiency. Their generally lighter weight also plays a role in reducing fuel consumption, presenting an appealing option for drivers with a focus on environmental consciousness. As the emphasis on minimising carbon footprints continues to grow, green tires are gaining popularity, offering individuals a means to drive with a more eco-friendly approach.

Eco-Friendly Materials and The Demonstration Tyre from Goodyear

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company has introduced a demonstration tyre crafted from 90% sustainable materials, successfully passing both regulatory and internal testing by Goodyear. This innovative tire not only complies with regulatory standards but has also demonstrated lower rolling resistance compared to a conventional reference tire manufactured with traditional materials. The reduced rolling resistance of this demonstration tire suggests the potential for enhanced fuel efficiency and a decrease in carbon footprint.

Goodyear asserts its commitment to sustainability by incorporating 17 major ingredients, encompassing 12 distinct tire components that are either sustainably sourced or boast a lower environmental impact than their counterparts in standard production tires. An example of this is the use of soybean oil among these components, which plays a crucial role in maintaining the tire’s rubber compound flexibility across varying temperatures. Leveraging soybean oil, a bio-based resource, aids in diminishing Goodyear’s reliance on petroleum-based products. Furthermore, the utilisation of soybean oil in industrial applications taps into a substantial surplus left from its primary use in food and animal feed applications, contributing to Goodyear’s eco-friendly initiatives.

Goodyear sustainable tyre infographic

Further Steps in Sustainability: The Airless Tyre

Unlike traditional tyres, which rely on an inflatable structure, airless tyres utilise advanced materials and innovative designs to eliminate the need for air. Merging an aluminum wheel with a flexible load-bearing structure crafted from glass fiber-reinforced plastic,  the Unique Puncture-proof Tire System (UPTIS) showcases Michelin’s mastery of advanced materials. This innovative design not only embodies the high-performance characteristics expected from a Michelin tire but also stands out as a distinctive solution in the realm of airless tires.

Setting it apart from current airless alternatives primarily tailored for low-speed professional applications, UPTIS stands as an ideal fit for the specific requirements of passenger cars.

You might be asking what is the need? Airless technology is poised to significantly decrease the volume of discarded tires landing in landfills due to punctures. Michelin’s airless tyre is designed to have an extended lifespan compared to traditional tyres. The robust construction minimizes wear and tear, contributing to a reduction in the frequency of tyre replacements. This longevity aspect aligns with the principles of a circular economy by promoting resource efficiency. It is estimated that around 20% of tires are discarded as scrap due to flats and rapid pressure loss (12%) or irregular wear and tear caused by poor tire pressure (8%).

Challenges and Future Prospects: Navigating the Road Ahead

While, for example Michelin’s airless tyre, represents a commendable step towards sustainability in the tyre industry, challenges remain. The widespread adoption of such innovative technologies requires overcoming manufacturing scalability, cost-effectiveness, and consumer acceptance. Additionally, addressing the environmental impact of existing tyres already in circulation remains a significant challenge.

The future prospects, however, are promising. Continued research and development in sustainable materials, coupled with advancements in recycling technologies, can further enhance the environmental profile of tyres. Moreover, collaborative efforts involving governments, manufacturers, and consumers are essential to creating an ecosystem that encourages sustainable practices.

In conclusion, the tyre industry is at a pivotal juncture where sustainability is no longer a desirable goal but a necessity. Conventional tyres, with their environmental challenges, have spurred innovation and a shift towards greener alternatives. Michelin’s airless tyre stands as a testament to the industry’s commitment to sustainable mobility.

As we navigate towards a future where electric and hybrid vehicles aim to become the norm, the importance of sustainable tyres cannot be overstated. The road to sustainability in the tyre industry involves a multi-faceted approach, including the use of eco-friendly materials, advancements in recycling technologies, and the adoption of revolutionary designs like airless tyres.