AKRON—Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. is pursuing three fronts in technology to improve fuel economy, military safety and production costs.
During the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in Las Vegas, Cooper unveiled its first low-rolling-resistance touring tire, announced a joint development pact to produce airless military tires and promoted its involvement in testing a domestically grown alternative for natural rubber.
The Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker's GFE touring tire—an abbreviation for “greater fuel efficiency”—was developed using state-of-the-art mixing technology with an enhanced polymer system and silica tread compound to improve treadwear, fuel economy and wet traction and give a quiet ride.
The GFE provides 21-percent lower rolling resistance than Cooper's GLS, according to Chuck Yurkovich, Cooper vice president of global technology. The tire is expected to provide a lifetime fuel savings equal to 25 percent of the cost of the tire. The tire also features a 60,000-mile limited treadwear warranty and three-dimensional sipes that help increase traction as the tread wears.
“It will truly help dispel the notion that you can't get great performance out of a low-rolling-resistance tire,” said Hal Gardner, Cooper's vice president of marketing.
The tire is expected to be available next summer in eight sizes ranging from 14 to 16 inches in rim diameter.
The tire maker also disclosed a joint development agreement with Resilient Technologies L.L.C. to produce an unusual-looking airless tire/wheel concept that would help military Humvee vehicles retain mobility amid gunfire and explosions.
The nonpneumatic tire has been under development by Resilient for more than two years to address the increased number of military vehicles and personnel being stranded in Iraq and elsewhere because of bullets and shrap- nel causing flat tires.
The prototype non¬pneu¬matic tire, unlike traditional tires, features an open honeycomb casing without a sidewall. The honeycomb design allows bullets and shrapnel to move through the tire without disabling it, according to Cooper. The tire will continue to run even if a large portion of the honeycomb cells have been disabled.
The companies said the design provides better mo- bility, range, functionality and reliability and requires less maintenance than a standard military run-flat tire. It also improves ride quality and load capacity, the companies said.
Under the joint venture, Cooper will provide design, manufacturing, testing and performance expertise. Resilient provides experience with advanced engineered polymer products.
“We value the opportunity to work with Resilient Technologies on a project that directly helps save the lives of U.S. military personnel,” Yurkovich said. “The initial field tests, at speeds up to 55 mph, have reinforced that we're on the right path regarding the tire's structure and composition.”
The nonpneumatic tire weighs about the same as a traditional Humvee run-flat tire, requires less oil in the manufacturing process and is retreadable. After additional testing, Cooper and Resilient said they will deliver prototypes to the U.S. Army. The tire is expected to be in use by 2011.
The nonpneumatic tire also has future potential in the commercial market, according to Yurkovich. “There are a lot of potential consumer benefits with a nonpneumatic tire, and we're looking forward to assessing the practicality of implementation in our markets.”
Wausau, Wis.-based Resilient has been developing the concept along with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Polymer Engineering Center under the auspices of a four-year, $18 million grant from the Pentagon, according to Resilient.
Cooper also is helping research alternatives to natural rubber in response to supply shortages and escalating prices, by partnering with the Program of Excellence in Natural Rubber Alternatives.
The partnership would focus on experimenting with the Russian dandelion, scientifically known as Taraxacum kok-saghyz or TKS, the leading potential domestically grown alternative for NR. The tap roots produce high quality latex comparable in performance with rubber extracted from the current main source, the Brazilian rubber tree, or Hevea.
Cooper said it will assess the molecular structure of the plant and conduct testing on the NR product for traction, durability, rolling resistance and tread wear.
Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center has been researching the plant for several years.
PENRA partners will conduct exhaustive testing over the next four years before the start of small-scale manufacturing of tires using TKS. The material is not expected to completely replace the need for NR, but it has the potential to provide 30 percent of market need, according to PENRA.
“It would allow U.S.-based tire manufacturers to potentially acquire more flexible resources, while at the same time positively impacting the environment by reducing the carbon footprint created to produce and ship natural rubber to the U.S.,” said Greg Bowman, Cooper advanced technology manager.
Eventually a pilot plant will produce about 20 tons annually by 2011, and Cooper will receive “a significant amount” of the material before it is available commercially, the tire manufacturer said.
TKS research as an NR source dates back to World War II when the Asian NR supply was curtailed. However, after the war, supply lines reopened and industry research shifted focus to further synthetic rubber development.