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Tires to match your cellulosic ethanol?

Oregon State University researchers find tires made partially from trees to be cheaper, perform better, and offer more fuel efficiency.

Doctoral student Web Bai working on a rubber composite for tires in an OSU laboratory. Oregon State University

I'm sure you've heard of a rubber tree plant, but have you also heard about the new rubber tree tire?

Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have developed a tire made from plant materials combined with rubber that offers several benefits over conventionally manufactured tires.

The rubber composite contains microcrystalline cellulose as an additive, a material that can be made from a wide variety of plant materials, instead of the usual carbon black or silica typically used.

Manufacturing tires from a renewable plant source could be less expensive to produce than tires using carbon black, which is made from oil, or silica which takes a lot of energy to produce.

But aside from the manufacturing benefits, the researchers found that the cellulosicrubber tires had better traction on wet surfaces and were less affected by heat compared to conventional tires.

"Early tests indicate that such products would have comparable traction on cold or wet pavement, be just as strong, and provide even higher fuel efficiency than traditional tires in hot weather," according to a report from Kaichang Li, associate professor of wood science and engineering in the OSU College of Forestry, and Wen Bai, a doctoral student who collaborated on the project.