Reader Response: Scientists Investigate Tires Made from Trees

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The wood science team at Oregon State University is working on a project to use microcrystalline cellulose, a material produced from tree fibers, as an alternative to silica for tire reinforcement.

Photo: Wikimedia.org

The study suggests that this approach might decrease the energy required to produce the tire, reduce costs and better resist heat buildup. Photo: Wikimedia.org

Silica is primarily used to provide traction for tires, but OSU scientists claim that the new material provided comparable traction in wet and rainy conditions when tested. It also reduced rolling during high temperatures.

While silica is a naturally occurring element, it requires more energy to process than OSU’s alternative. Silica is also combined with carbon black, an oil-based product that gives tires their black color. The weight of these materials also detracts from fuel efficiency, and microcrystalline cellulose is a lighter substance.

The cellulose is produced using acid hydrolysis on wood products, such as trees. The average piece of wood contains 40-50 percent cellulose according to OSU. It is then mixed with other materials to form composite rubber, which is the raw material for tires.

The next step is determining the durability of cellulose in tires over time.  The project is of special interest in Oregon because of the abundance of Pacific Northwest natural fibers that could be utilized for cellulose.

Other tire advancements in the works include generating the oil from natural substances like orange peels. This reduces the need for petroleum, which is prone to long burning and black smoke when tires are landfilled.

So what do you think? Would this new substance be an improvement or a detriment to the environmental impact of tires?

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