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How are manufacturers developing tyres for eco-conscious drivers?

By John SwiftIndustry News2nd October 2019

The green agenda is transforming the entire motor industry. From component suppliers to vehicle manufacturers, businesses are all asking the same question: how eco-friendly are we?

The green agenda is transforming the entire motor industry. From component suppliers to vehicle manufacturers, businesses are all asking the same question: how eco-friendly are we?

The change is being driven by two powerful forces. The first is new legislation, forcing manufacturers to slash their pollution footprint. The second is the pull from consumers who are increasingly concerned about their impact on the environment. 

Tyre manufacturers have responded to this in a big way, prompting many to look for alternatives to natural rubber and cleaner ways of disposing of used products. 


Is there a green substitute for natural rubber?


Until now, there hasn’t been a suitable replacement for rubber in tyres. This is because rubber remains elastic in warm or cold temperatures and is relatively cheap.

The downside, of course, is that cutting down rubber tree plantations causes widespread deforestation. 

A solution may come from an unlikely source, though – Russian dandelions. Tyre maker Continental has found a fluid in the root of the flower that contains rubber particles. They have processed this into a substance called Taraxagum. 

The dandelions can be grown in a European climate and harvested by farmers just as they would any other annual crop. By having closer proximity to European-based tyre production centres, it could reduce pollution levels caused by transportation. Not to mention reducing deforestation.

Continental has displayed prototypes at motor shows and is now planning to put them into production. This will start with winter tyres, which have always contained a high proportion of natural rubber. Substituting natural rubber with Taraxagum is a big step forward, but the search goes on. 

While natural rubber accounts for between 35 to 40% of the basic materials in a tyre, there are synthetic products used too. These are usually taken from crude oil. Manufacturing a single tyre can use up to seven gallons of crude oil, so the eco benefits of finding alternative raw materials cannot be overstated. 


When to change your tyres


Thanks to modern compounds, designs and manufacturing, today’s tyres last far longer and deliver better performance – this alone reduces the eco-impact.

So long as nothing is causing unexpected wear, you should get around 20,000 miles from a set of front tyres on a typical family hatchback, perhaps double that for the rears. Heavier cars such as SUVs tend to wear theirs out sooner as will those fitted to sports cars.

Most experts say that tyres should be changed when they wear down to 3mm tread depth – 4mm for a winter tyre – to guarantee optimal safety. All agree that tyres five years old should be checked at least once a year by a professional and should be removed when they reach ten.


The search for low rolling resistance 


One area that manufacturers are investing money is in end-of-life tyre disposal. As opposed to dumping tyres in landfill sites or burning them, many tyres now are being recycled. This has resulted in creating everything from roof tiles to soft play areas. They’ve even been used for road surfaces.

Tyre manufacturers are making big gains in all these areas, but the one most obvious to drivers is the issue of rolling resistance – the amount of energy a tyre needs to move it over the road surface. 

As we discussed in an earlier article, tyres can account for around 20% of a car’s fuel consumption. It’s only recently, however, that advances in materials and design have allowed manufacturers to achieve the holy grail of having low rolling resistance as well as high grip.

Manufacturers are playing their part, but there is something all of us can do right now to make our tyres as eco-efficient as possible – by running them at the correct air pressure. 

Nothing burns fuel faster than an under-inflated tyre, so make sure to keep yours at the carmakers’ recommended levels.

For more advice on the topics discussed here and for guidance on finding the most eco-friendly tyre for your car, van or caravan, call our team today.

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