NEW YORK (June 5, 2009)—On the reality TV show the Amazing Race, contestants travel more than 30,000 miles over five continents in 23 days to see who can reach a predetermined destination first.
“The Amazing Race in the tire business is to see who can engineer and design tires that provide the lowest rolling resistance without compromising handling and durability,” said Mark Emkes, chairman and CEO of Bridgestone Americas Inc.
Emkes praised the work of polymer scientists, calling them “unsung heroes of our business,” in a speech at the 50th Annual General Meeting of the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers May 12 in New York.
While not a scientist or polymer researcher himself, he said, “I speak your language and I am one of your biggest admirers.”
Emkes said better rolling resistance means better fuel economy, noting everyone in his IISRP audience could design a tire with minimal rolling resistance “but doing it without compromising tread durability or handling is pretty difficult.”
The solution to this is a smarter polymer and the race right now is centered on polymer technology, he said.
Building better tires
All tire makers are trying to reduce hysteresis, the heat buildup of the rubber compounds that make up a tire.
A key to reducing this and achieving better rolling resistance is through chain modification. “Basically you need to have the polymer ends attach themselves to the filler network in the compound,” he said. “Tying down the ends of those polymer chains reduces heat buildup, resulting in less molecular friction and lower rolling resistance.”
As to how Bridgestone is figuring out how to tie down polymer ends, Emkes wouldn't say.
“That would be like giving out the secret for Coca Cola,” he said. “So for obvious competitive reasons we'll need to keep that information to ourselves. But the result of advances in polymer technology will be tires that provide excellent rolling resistance and fuel economy with world-class durability and wet handling capabilities.”
Bridgestone is using some of this new technology in its Ecopia brand tires introduced in North America this year.
The tire line gives drivers the lowest rolling resistance with no compromise in overall tire performance, Emkes said.
A video shown during his speech illustrated the differences between conventional and Ecopia tires. Two exact vehicles were rolled off the same flat-bed truck. The one equipped with the Ecopia tires rolled 43-percent farther than the vehicle with conventional tires.
The reason is the Ecopia tires have 30-percent lower rolling resistance than the conventional tire they were tested against, which translates into 4.2-percent better fuel efficiency, if the tires are properly inflated. Better fuel efficiency also reduces C02 emissions, Emkes said.
Innovations in polymer technology also are fueling improvements in the firm's runflat tires, he said. The company recently rolled out its third-generation runflats that have dramatically improved ride comfort.
Among the technical advancements are a new ply that reduces deformation by adapting a leading-edge fiber for use as a tire material and Cooling Fin sidewall technology that generates air flow to cool the tire when driving.
Most importantly is a new reinforced sidewall that is thinner and softer that reduces the vertical stiffness of the tire, “which means you get a smooth comfortable ride that is comparable to vehicles equipped with conventional tires,” Em-kes said.
“The key to this new sidewall-reinforced rubber is a polymer technology we call NanoPro-tech.”
Sidewall-reinforced rubber with Na-noPro-tech cuts the heat generated by tire sidewall deformation when driving on tires that have lost air pressure, he said.
Emkes challenged the SR producers to lead the way in innovations.
“Consumers want it all. They want tires that help protect our planet and save them money. And they don't want to give an inch when it comes to handling and durability. The only way we get there is by continuing to develop better polymers.”