Rolling out the ‘green’ tyre for fuel economy and sustainability

Various improvements have been made to the manufacture of tyres since the invention of the pneumatic tyre by John Dunlop in 1888. In 1973, Italian tyremaker, Pirelli, developed the steel-belted radial tyre which reduces the fuel consumption of cars fitted with them. 

[Image, right: The different rubbers produced at Lanxess’s Port Jérôme, France facility are mainly being employed in the production of high performance tires, which have especially good properties in rolling friction, brake response and abrasion resistance.]

Today, tyre manufacturers are still continuing to find ways to develop tyres that reduce full consumption further, and with the introduction of stricter environmental laws and standards, the need to have a fuel-efficient ‘green’ tyre is becoming imperative.

Next year, Europe will legalise the mandatory labelling of tyre performance under an EU tyre labelling regulation. The new regulation comes as no surprise as CO2 emissions from vehicle tyres contribute between 20-30%of a passenger car’s fuel consumption and around 24% of its CO2 emissions, according to German chemical firm, Lanxess, who supplies rubber to major tyre manufacturers around the world. 

The European Union tire labeling initiative is expected to increase the market share of ‘green tyres’ made from high-performance rubber from the present 35% to around 50% of the overall tyre market. According to Dr Heitmann, a regulation around tyre labeling will not only help customers to determine the size of a tyre’s carbon footprint, but also help to reduce the environmental impact of growing global population and their need for increased mobility.

Dr Heitmann was speaking at the Lanxess Rubber Day 2011 in Düsseldorf, which attracted 250 international members of industry associations and media.

The latest Lanxess forecasts supported by internal market studies estimate that around 2 billion tyres will come off manufacturing production lines by 2015 compared with around 1.6 billion at present. This is an increase of about 25% output for the tyre industry.

Lanxess chairman of the Board of Management Dr Axel Heitmann says the trend towards mobility will only continue to grow as more people choose to drive cars and the need for much more environmentally friendly means of mobility will continue to be a priority for the industry. The trend will lead to greater demand for ‘green’ innovation in tyre manufacturing. 

Tyres reportedly account for about a fifth of the energy required to power a car and the ‘rolling resistance’ tyres accounts for approximately 4% of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions. This has lead tyre manufacturers and suppliers to share the view that improved fuel economy can be achieve through reducing rolling resistance of tyres. 

For example, reducing rolling resistance by up to 30 per cent can significantly cut the fuel consumption of cars, for example, with a gasoline engine with average fuel consumption of 10 l/100km, by half a litre per 100km and its CO2 emissions by 1.2 kg per 100 km, says Lanxess head of research and development on the board of management, Dr. Werner Breuers.

Outside of Europe, tyre labelling programs are already under consideration in the countries with the strongest forecasted growth in mobility – largely the emerging markets of Asia and South America. 

In South Korea, plans to introduce compulsory labelling based on the EU-model in 2012 is already under consideration, while in Japan, a voluntary obligation by the industry to label tyres has existed since 2010. Tyre labelling regulations are also currently under discussion in the United States and Brazil. China is yet another country, where tire labelling is the subject of debate. 

Australia is yet to enter the tyre labelling conversation, largely because there are hardly any tyre manufactures left in the domestic market; however it does not mean local manufacturers should shy away from the debate.