Researchers at Oregon State University in US found the potential of microcrystalline cellulose to partially replace silica as reinforcing filler in the manufacture of rubber tyres. Microcrystalline cellulose is a product that can be derived from almost any type of plant fibers.
The study also suggested that this approach can decrease the energy required to produce a tyre, reduce costs and better resist heat buildup. A product of this kind will have comparable traction on cold or wet pavement, be just as strong, and provide even higher fuel efficiency than traditional tyres in hot weather.
Cellulose fiber has been used for some time as reinforcement in some types of rubber and automotive parts and accessories such as belts, hoses and insulation; but never in tyres, where the preferred fillers are carbon black and silica. Carbon black, however, is made from increasingly expensive oil, and the processing of silica is energy-intensive. Both products are very dense and reduce the fuel efficiency of a car.
In this study, the researchers replaced up to about 12 per scent of the silica used in conventional tyre manufacture. This decreased the amount of energy needed to compound the rubber composite, improved the heat resistance of the product and retained tensile strength.
More research is needed to confirm the long-term durability of tyres made with partial replacement of silica.