Sumitomo to launch 'fossil fuel free' tyre in 2013
Two papers delivered at the end of the tyre-based segment of the International Rubber Research and Development Board's International Rubber Conference 2013 focused on rubber technologies helping to create the next wave of green tyres. Dr Stuart Cook, the director of research at TAARC, gave a brief history of the research centre’s development of Ekoprena, starting with Michelin’s identification of the first “green tyre” back in 1992, while Sumitomo's Kozaburo Nakaseko indicated the corporation's intention to launch a "fossil fuel free tyre" in the second half of 2013, mixing "epoxidised natural rubber" with a more highly refined rubber product.
First Cook explained the development of “green tyre” technology, which at first merely referred to the fuel saving properties of synthetic rubber tread compounds with precipitated silica-filler and silane coupling agent replacing carbon black fillers. As the concept of green tyres grew to take into account sustainable, non-fossil fuel resources, and latterly tyre label ratings, natural rubber latex was chemically modified, making the use of epoxidised natural rubber (ENR) to reduce rolling resistance while improving wet grip became possible, and Ekoprena was anointed as the future of green tyres, reducing the impact of the tread on fuel consumption by up to 30 per cent in TBRs and more modest gains in PCRs.
Sumitomo Rubber Industries senior executive officer Kozaburo Nakaseko, to some extent inspired by the Japanese tyre labelling regulations, is using ENR technologies to produce a 100 per cent fossil fuel-free tyre in the second half of 2013. Also new in this tyre will be the use of “ultra-pure natural rubber technology”, which is the manufacturer’s solution to increasing longevity, and therefore reducing raw materials consumption. The natural rubber is highly purified to enhance the interaction of the natural rubber and carbon black, which helps to increase tread life.
Other tyre based papers given during the IRC included LMC International head of rubber and tyre research Robert Simmons, who summarised the outlook for the global tyre industry; Energy Solutions senior project manager Ed Pike, who explained the potential benefits of low rolling resistance tyres; Dr Philippe Jost, silica R&D director at Solvay talking about the impact of silica on natural rubber; and finally tyre industry consultant Dr Roger Williams, who presented a provocative paper that dared to ask the question of whether the pneumatic tyre would survive. Using the opportunity to think outside the box a little, Williams asked fundamental questions about the amount of natural resources used in the making of the products and their energy efficiency, while hunting for potential replacement inventions. For his money, natural rubber “must fight for its future in the face of technologies”.