Car tyres are designed with the purpose of keeping your car on the road regardless of the conditions they are working under. Whether it’s heat, rain, snow, ice they need to be compliant to be able to offer grip, while being tough enough to be hardwearing and last several thousand miles of usage. To accomplish these extremes, tyres have certain design features and that have remained unchanged almost from their first designs.
Every year, around 300 million tyres are left in landfill in America alone, and they have little chance of degrading inside millennia creating a huge potential problem for future generations. Plainly, something needs to be done, and whether that is from the use of natural resources in their construction to the increasingly pressing issue of ecologically-acceptable disposal our actions now will impact the planet for our children.
Tyre manufacture: back to basics
But while it seems that there is little that can be done with the actual tyre design to ease their disposal or recycling, one manufacturer has gone beyond tinkering with the possibilities offered by tyres as they are and have attacked the problem from the basics with how tyres can help benefit our world. Goodyear has gone back to the drawing board with the way that tyres are made and how they interact with the environment, and the results are looking good. Launched at the 2018 Geneva motor show, the Oxygene tyre is more than a concept - it is a reality that is driving the way forward for eco-cars!
Goodyear’s plant based solutions
From its roots in manufacturing bicycle tyres, Goodyear have a grand tradition in supplying tyres for cars, commercial trucks, light trucks, motorcycles, SUVs, race cars, airplanes, farm equipment and heavy earth-mover machinery. The company have grown to become one of the world’s top four tyre manufacturers and have invested heavily in tyre research and development, and they have started to look at the possibility of tyres helping with the reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The rubber that goes into making tyres and other toughened rubber products undergoes a process known as vulcanisation which adds sulphur cross-links to the latex base material. This is non-reversible issue that makes tyres almost impossible to recycle, so Goodyear decided to investigate new materials which didn’t requires such a restrictive process.
Dawn of the Green Tyre?
While the actual contact face of a tyre is difficult to change or alter significantly, there is great potential in creating tyres that do more than just keep us on the roads, particularly as the very nature of cars is now changing to become eco-conscious themselves. Car design is evolving to embrace battery power and that means a huge step away from the gas-guzzling cars of just a few years ago, and Goodyear see wheels and tyres evolving with them.
Goodyear’s new concept is a leap into the future with an integrated tyre and wheel that not only uses new tread designs but also uses a sidewall which incorporates integral mossy material. This living structure not only absorbs damaging carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, but also generates its own light through the chemical reactions within it and can become an integral part of the cars systems.
Oxygene tyres: safety and functionality
Oxygene, with its built-in vegetable material in the wheel, is capable of capturing CO2 and converting it to electrical energy as a secondary process to the production of oxygen. This can be used to produce an array of lighting options and including safety lighting to warn pedestrians of the vehicles presence, and functional lighting such as brake and turn signalling.
Electric vehicles solve many problems but potentially create others by being close to silent in running, so other means need to be used to make them obvious, and a set of light-up wheels may just be that. Termed “LiFi” by the company, this smart by-product of the photosynthesis process and powers a lighting communications system is seen as being an essential part of increasing the visibility of autonomous vehicles.
The Oxygene tyre and integral structure are created using a 3D printer rather than be produced by the current method of build-up and cure, which makes tyres so difficult to recycle. By using the printing technique, layers of different materials can be built up, giving compliant materials for the main body of the wheel and tyre body, while allowing more hardwearing rubber variants on the road-facing surfaces. This means not only a more efficient means of creating tyres, but also the greater possibility of recycling them too.
Change for the better
Our vehicles are in the process of undergoing a step-change in what they are and how we perceive them, and technologies such as Oxygene are changing the automotive industry. With Goodyear showing what is possible, other manufacturers are likely to follow suit and develop other alternatives to traditional tyres, which may lead to safer cars and safer roads.
While the Oxygene tyre is a prototype project, it is a glimpse of the future and demonstrates just what can be achieved when big manufacturers use their resources to think outside the box and look towards how we can change our thinking on even previously well-defined parts.