Sustainable Living and the Car Component: Turns Out Those Tires Make a Mighty Difference

When one commonly thinks of sustainable living and looking to reduce their carbon footprint in terms of their car and transportation they usually think solely of the fueling system of the vehicle. Though outside of opting for say electric over gas there are other ways to boost the eco-friendly stats of the auto without even tackling the fueling source. For example even those sustainable living folks driving off of a gas car can still make their road trips less destructive to the environment by keeping it in good working order; one such example is ensuring the tires are fully inflated so they run most efficiently.

Speaking of tires, here we have what may be an oft overlooked opportunity to improve the eco-factor of a car regardless of what it is running off of. This is a two pronged argument; not only how the tires are able to improve gas mileage but also the process that goes into making them. “We found that 86 percent of the tire’s environmental impact revolves around how it affects fuel consumption,” noted Michelin North American technical director Forrest Patterson, “Only 12 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with tires arise from the raw materials and manufacturing.” Just what specifically is he referencing in terms of those raw materials? Up to 10 gallons of petroleum for just a single tire.

Thus the race to supply the roadways with more efficient and sustainable living tires has been on; in fact it is interesting to note that in the beginning of the 20th century auto makers were actually using more sustainable resources to produce tires. Back in the day latex sap from rubber trees was the go to of choice yet it was only as technology, and the drive to cut costs, advanced that the ingredients shifted to crude oils and synthetic rubbers. So in appears that for the purposes of sustainable living perhaps we need to take a step back in time and reverse some of these ‘advancements.’

This has been an initiative implemented by a few companies worldwide; Sumitomo Rubber Industries in Japan unveiled their line of tires in 2006 that slashed the total usage of synthetic rubber by 50 percent. Unfortunately, these greener tires were found to then have less traction and didn’t turn as well so to offset this they devised a way to give these treads a firmer grip. Finally these Enasave tires relied on vegetable processing oil instead of petroleum and even plant cellulose was integrated. Since then these tires have been improved upon and in 2008 were deemed 97 percent free of petroleum; the hope is to nix petroleum altogether by 2013.

Sumitomo is joined by Yokohama Tire, also in Japan, with goals for tires in line with sustainable living with the dB Super E-spec models created out of oils made from orange peels and other natural rubbers. In the United States Oregon State University has been perfecting a recipe reliant on different plant fibers known as microcrystalline cellulose. Another benefit of these fibers is they reduce the weight of the tires and hence make them even more efficient, “If you take a half ounce out of a tire it saves a tremendous amount of fuel because it makes it easier to rotate the wheel,” explains Mr. Herzlich one such individual involved in the project. So while there should still continues to be headway in refining the fueling of choice for your car, perhaps it is worth taking a closer look at those tires it is driving on.

Photo credit: Grant Mathews