As we become more and more environmentally aware, we start changing and adapting our dated ways to better suit the world of today and look to the future. Car tires are a serious threat to the environment in more ways than one. Although you may never have thought about this issue, it exists and it is very real.
Most current road tires are constructed from natural rubber, petroleum, and carbon black filler which comes from burned fossil fuels. They also feature a number of other chemical additives to keep the entire thing together as a compound, but they’re not as important as the listed materials. Needless to say, the debris which comes off regular tires as they wear in normal road use is not particularly healthy for the environment.
Although trends have started to shift in the last couple of years, over 25 percent of all tires still end up in landfills. Most of those are used as “Tire Derived Fuel” (TDF). This means they’re burned alongside other polluting fuels like coal.
Environmentalists are also criticizing the tire industry and tire manufacturers themselves for producing sticky tires which grip the road really well. This means the cars have to burn more fuel as a direct result, just to overcome the extra grip.
Luckily, most big manufacturers like Continental, Michelin, and Goodyear have already started programs that advance to end the use of fossil resources in the production of new tires. Bridgestone has the most ambitious goal by far. They plan to make tires from completely sustainable materials by 2050. It’s a long way off, but with the current rate of progress, it can happen even sooner.
Basically, it all comes down to three major components: the raw materials, the rolling resistance, and recycling. Call it the three R’s if you will.
The biggest issue comes from the raw materials. Current materials like synthetic rubber, carbon black and rubber compounding agents need to be replaced as they’re by far the most damaging to the environment.
The big tire manufacturers have already found some substitutes for natural rubber and are exploiting them. Russian dandelion and Guayule plants exhibit a lot of the properties that natural rubber does, and they can even be grown in Europe and the U.S. to then be harvested for tire production. Goodyear found that soybean oil shows great potential and promise too. As a natural ingredient, it can increase the tread life by as much as 10%.
Next up, we have rolling resistance. Obviously, the lower the rolling resistance the less energy required to make the car move, and vice versa. A tire with low rolling resistance improves gas mileage by a decent amount and reduces the overall CO2 emissions over the course of the car’s life. According to one study, around 5 to 15 percent of the fuel a car consumes is used just to overcome the rolling resistance.
Low rolling resistance tires (LRR tires) have come a long way in the past couple of years. They now offer low resistance with actual good performance and decent levels of grip. Almost all big major tire manufacturers offer some form of LRR tires, but there is no law or regulation on a mandatory rolling resistance figure.
Finally, we come to recycling. When you burn a tire, you’re essentially releasing all of those harmful chemicals into the air and in the ground underneath. Goodyear found a new process for devulcanizing cured rubber. It’s still in test phase, but the first results are promising. They managed to recover around 40 percent of the material initially, a figure which is now improved to around 80%. That’s mighty impressive when you consider most other forms of devulcanization can only manage 1 to 2 percent material recovery.
Which tires should I buy?
If you’re looking to buy good eco-friendly tires which also provide plenty of performance, check out Michelin’s Energy Saver or even Toyo’s Versado ECO. They’re both excellent value for the money too. If you want something more advanced, take a look at Yokohama’s dB Super E-spec tires. They might cost a bit more, but they’re free of petroleum products in their compound.
These are just a couple of examples which offer good value/money, so feel free to shop around more and compare prices, as well as rolling resistance and raw materials used. As environmentally-friendly tires at the moment can be expensive, you will need to find the sweet spot that caters to both your environmental ideas and available finances.