Filling Tires with Wood May Increase Gas Mileage, Quality

tires cellulose gas mileage photo

Photo: Shadyside Lantern via Flickr.
Trees may be employed to build the fuel-efficient tire of the future. Wood science researchers at Oregon State University have been studying microcrystalline cellulose. This substance can be created from most types of plant fiber, and it can be used to replace a percentage of silica that is commonly utilized as reinforcing filler in the manufacture of tires. (The OSU study replaced 12% of the silica.)According to the new study and some early testing, these tires require less energy to manufacture and cost less money to produce. They also counteract heat build up and increase gas mileage. Cellulose-reinforced tires are as strong as standard tires, and they have comparable traction ratings on pavements both wet and cold. On high-temperature pavements, however, the silica-reduced tires get greater gas mileage due to decreased rolling resistance..

Kai Chang Li, associate professor of wood science and engineering at the OSU College of Forestry:

We were surprised at how favorable the results were for the use of this material. This could lead to a new generation of automotive tire technology, one of the first fundamental changes to come around in a long time.

Cellulose has been used as filler in other rubber automotive parts such as belts, insulation and hoses, but it has not yet been used in tires. Rubber tires have been traditionally reinforced with carbon black and silica. Both substances are heavier than the new cellulose-based filler and are, therefore, less fuel efficient. Carbon black is made of nonrenewable oil.

The long-term durability of the new tires is still being scrutinized. Tire companies have contacted Li, but they have only made inquiries.

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