In the EV revolution, tires remain largely unchanged, posing environmental and safety issues.
A variety of startups and established firms are innovating to make tires better, cleaner, and safer.
Here are 7 companies that are reinventing tires to watch.
As auto manufacturing undergoes an EV revolution, one part of cars remains basically unchanged: the tires.
That's a problem, because tires are troublesome. Drivers must keep track of their condition because driving on old, bald tires is a disaster waiting to happen.
As tires wear down, they spew microparticles into the air, meaning even EVs with no tailpipe emissions are polluting as the rubber meets the road. And disposing of or recycling millions of old tires around the world is a dirty business in dire need of new solutions.
We don't need to reinvent the wheel, but innovators do need to take a serious look at the tire. A variety of startups and established firms are doing just that, racing to make tires better, cleaner, and safer while improving life for drivers. Here are seven key players to watch.
The Smart Tire Company
Location: Los Angeles, California.
Robots roving the surface of Mars need something more resilient than a typical car tire, since different planets have different atmospheres, and you can't fix a flat millions of miles from home. That's why scientists at NASA's Glenn Research Center are working on non-pneumatic tires that don't need to be filled with air. Their "spring tire" design uses a shape memory alloy that can deform when it drives over an obstacle like a sharp rock and then regain its shape.
The Smart Tire Company is a startup that has licensed NASA research in the hopes of developing it for commercial applications such as bicycle or automotive tires. The company was created in 2020 as part of the FedTech NASA Startup Program, and has secured a partnership with Hyundai and Kia to investigate the car tire of the future.
The Tyre Collective
Location: London, UK
The British company won a James Dyson award in 2020 for its clever idea to reduce pollution from tires: It would install a copper plate near the tires that is electrostatically charged by the car's battery. Tiny pieces of rubber flying off the tires are positively charged because of the friction between the rubber and the road, the company says. The plate would attract and capture most of those particles.
The Tyre Collective wants to turn this capture process into a closed loop by using the recovered plastic to make new tires or in technologies such as 3D printing. It's supported by venture firms like the Planet Fund and partners such as Imperial College London, where the trio of founders were in school when they came up with their idea.
Location: Ontario, Canada
There are billions of car tires rolling down the world's roads, and with tires wearing down to unsafe levels after five years or so, that's a lot of rubber to be recycled. Unfortunately, the process of vulcanizing rubber, in which it is treated with sulfur at high temperatures to create hard and tough tire rubber, is difficult to undo.
Tyromer uses an energy-efficient chemical process invented by its cofounder at the University of Waterloo in Canada to achieve the rapid devulcanization of rubber so it can be quickly returned into a reusable state the company calls Tire-Derived Polymer (TDP). Tyromer says TDP can be used in new tires or in applications such as conveyors.
Location: Plymouth, Michigan
Robotic arms have taken on much of the work of building cars, so why not change their tires? That was the idea behind Michigan's Robotire, which launched an automated tire changing service. A pair of mechanical arms, one on either side of the car, can scan the vehicle's VIN to access all the necessary information about how to service it, then complete the entire tire change and balance in about 25 minutes, freeing up an auto shop's human workers for other tasks.
Robotire, which launched in 2019, has now installed the system at two Discount Tire locations in Texas.
Location: Park City, Utah
Every industry seemingly has a monthly subscription service, and tires are no exception. Treads charges a monthly fee starting at $30, delivering to its customers new tires when they need them plus a variety of other services including tire rotations, repair, and roadside assistance. For eco-minded users, Treads promises to recycle all your old tires and donate a percentage of profits to atmospheric carbon removal.
Helpfully, the app tracks the time and mileage statistics for a set of tires so users don't have to remember whether their rubber quartet is due for rotation or replacement.
Location: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
According to Pennsylvania-based TyreFlow, only about 30 percent of U.S. tires are recycled — the rest are burned for fuel or thrown into landfills. The company aims to change that by integrating the entire process of recycling old tires, from sourcing them from auto repair shops to processing them into materials that can be easily reused by industry.
For example, TyreFlow says it can process tire rubber into carbon black — a material used to make new car tires and also in a variety of other applications, such as a pigment for black electronic devices —while creating far fewer carbon emissions compared to creating virgin carbon black.
Sailun is not a startup, but an established Chinese tire company. However, it is one of the first tire providers to sell a product made specifically with electric vehicles in mind. Sailun says the rubber compound in its ERange electric vehicle tires has a lower rolling resistance compared to ordinary tires. That means less wasted energy as the car rolls down the road, which extends an EV's range. The company also claims to have achieved better load-bearing capacity in the ERange line to account for the fact that EVs, because of their large batteries, tend to be heavy.
Andrew Moseman is a freelance writer for Insider.
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