AKRON—Evonik Industries is hoping to push its silica/silane technology to gain greater acceptance in tire production in the U.S. following the success the firm has had with the know-how in Europe.
Officials from Essen, Germany-based Evonik—formerly Degussa A.G.—said consumers can benefit if their technology had higher penetration in the U.S. market.
Consumers would save on fuel consumption because the tires would have lower rolling resistance, three Evonik executives said in an interview in Akron. In addition, the tires would be safer because of increased wet traction.
Evonik's silica technology involves organosilanes that serve as coupling agents. The firm said the organosilane acts like a bridge between the rubber and the reinforcing agent silica. Evonik claims using this silica technology rather than relying solely on carbon black as a reinforcing agent results in an increased fuel efficiency of 3-5 percent.
The German firm—which has a U.S. headquarters in Parsippany, N.J.—also has unveiled VP Si 363, a new organosilane aimed at improving fuel efficiency by another 2-3 percent.
While Evonik's silica/silane technology has had good success in Europe dating back to the 1990s, its market penetration remains small in the U.S., with some usage in original equipment but very little in the replacement tire market.
Some tire makers are starting to introduce high-performance tires made with the technology in the U.S., and now may be a good time for Evonik to make more of an inroad, said Hans-Detlef Luginsland, director of strategic marketing for rubber silicas and silanes.
“It's good for the environment and it's a technology to offer tire makers to differentiate themselves against cheap imports,” he said. “So I think the silica/silane system will come. It's just a question of how fast.”
Thomas Trempler, vice president of strategic marketing for rubber additives, said as the auto industry continues to look for ways to produce more fuel efficient cars, each part of the automobile will have to contribute.
“The tire is a very essential part,” Trempler said. “We are a second-tier supplier to automotive where we can really improve the fuel efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions of tires without violating any other important properties of tires.”
Evonik is trying to do all it can to push the system, including contact with auto makers, but Trempler said there's only so much a material supplier can do. “We are not a deciding factor,” he said. “We have no contact with the end user.”
The car makers will continue to be the driving force and he's sure they are pushing tire makers for more fuel efficient tires. But in the end, OE accounts for only about 30 percent of the U.S. tire market and much of the aftermarket is dominated by big distributors looking mainly at how much a tire costs and how long it lasts, Trempler said.
Evonik, also a major carbon black producer, can help by trying to educate consumers—much like what was done to promote energy efficient light bulbs. “It's not just a round, rubber article,” Luginsland said. “It's a high-tech article that can get from point 'A' to point 'B' in a safe manner, but it also has an impact on the consumption of your car.”
He said the U.S. is a perfect location for its silica/silane technology to be effective, given the opportunity for consumers to drive long distances at a regulated speed. “In that situation, the tire will have an impact.”
As for a cost premium, Evonik officials placed it in the range of $3 to $5 a tire—an amount they said is difficult to pass on in OE but shouldn't be a factor in the replacement market. Trempler said he can even imagine a point where the silica/silane system will be no more expensive than carbon black because the latter is so dependent on feedstock prices.
Luginsland said a doable goal is 60-percent penetration of the OE passenger car market in the U.S. by 2015, roughly double the current share. Growth on the replacement side will take longer and will depend on such factors as how much the government pushes the fuel efficient technology.
Trempler said the company also is working on developing the next generation of the technology for Europe and also wants to find a similar breakthrough for truck tires, as the current system works only with car tires.