Making tires from trees

Gone are the days of the traditional rubber tire; that is with the rubber coming from a tree. Well over 90% of all tires are made from synthetic material – and they have certainly proved to be an environmental headache. For example, around 300 million tires are scrapped or dumped in the USA per year. Around 10 gallons of oil goes into making a single tire.

In a back-to-the-future development, tires may one day again have some of their components coming from (sustainably managed I would hope) trees.

Wood science researchers at Oregon State University have found microcrystalline cellulose – made from almost any type of plant fiber – could partially replace silica as a reinforcing filler in the manufacture of tires. The processing of silica is energy-intensive and being very dense, reduces the fuel efficiency of automobiles.

The researchers say the tree-based solution could decrease the energy required to produce the tire and provide even higher fuel efficiency than traditional tires in hot weather – and they would be cheaper to boot.

In their study OSU, researchers replaced up to about 12 percent of the silica used in conventional tire manufacture. Less energy was used to create the tire, heat resistance was improved and tensile strength was retained.

The study also showed that the traction of the new product was comparable to existing tire technology in a wet, rainy environment. More research is needed to confirm the long-term durability of tires made with partial replacement of silica.

Another recent development is the replacement of crude oil used in tire manufacture with orange oil. These tires are being developed by Yokohama, provide better traction and 20 percent less rolling resistance than standard petroleum based tires.

If you’re interested in more environmentally friendly tires, also check out this article on Green Diamond Tires. These use more silicon carbide, but the way its used is different (embedded in the tread) and it’s based on a remolded passenger or light truck-class tire – so that means less tires going to landfill. According to the manufacturers, the finished product is stronger than the original tire and good for 45,000 miles.


Tires and the environment