Published Sept. 4, 2013
FORT MILL, S.C. — The dandelion, often the scourge of homeowners striving for a well-manicured law, could hold the key to making future tires mostly from renewable raw materials, says a key engineering executive with Continental AG.
|Boris Mergell, head of material and process engineering for Continental AG|
Engineers are already replacing fossil oils with rapeseed oils and polyester with rayon as reinforcement for the body of the tire or carcass, said Boris Mergell, head of material and process engineering.
At the same time, synthetic and natural rubber is being replaced by increasing quantities of recycled rubber from old tires.
“In terms of environmentally friendly materials, tires are better than their reputation,” Mergell said.
The path to developing “green tire” technology could be a rocky road, Mergell said.
“Not all raw materials in tires can simply be replaced by renewable materials,” Mergell said. “In many cases, such materials have a negative impact on braking performance or rolling resistance — and we will not accept any compromise here.”
“Also, the widespread replacement of fossil materials with renewable raw materials is not always a solution since it requires acreage that might already be used in food production,” Mergell said.
Future tires could include a variety of natural materials, including rubber extracted from dandelion, he said.
Since dandelions grow on fallow fields, it would neither have to compete with food products for land nor be transported long distances to tire plants. Also, carbon black can be replaced with silica in the compound, Mergell said. This way, 20% of the weight of a tire could be replaced with natural materials.
Whether acquired from renewable resources or recycling facilities, plasticizers and resins also could be used in tires.
“We still need to conduct numerous tests on materials and in our process engineering to make significant progress,” Mergell said.
Developing a “green tire” could be possible in another five years, he said. “We are heading along a promising path toward this goal.”
Continental AG, headquartered in Hanover, Germany, is the parent company of S.C.-based Continental Tire the Americas, which is building a $500 million, 1 million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Sumter. Continental plans to open the Sumter plant in early 2014.