Nanocellulose for tires: something new in performance and sustainability

March 7, 2017 |

In Georgia, American Process and Birla Carbon have signed a Joint Development Agreement to further explore the technical and business potential of combining carbon black and nanocellulose to improve the performance and sustainability profile of tires.

The Carbon black backstory

Carbon black is a solid paracrystilline carbon leftover (generally from oil refining) which has , when added to tires, adds significantly to tire strength and wear resistance. It’s a must-have material for the tire industry — although it has uses in plastics (adding UV resistance) and as a pigment, a food coloring, and to add conductivity to certain materials.

Over 70% of the world’s carbon black is consumed by the tire industry, with carbon black constituting 25% of the tire weight. Within the tire industry, there are ever-increasing demands to improve rolling resistance, traction and fuel economy while maintaining tire safety and affordability. In addition, with growing populations, economies, and mobility throughout the world, the industry must ensure that technology developments are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Meanwhile, Birla Carbon is one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of high quality Carbon Black and a flagship business of the $41B Aditya Birla Group. Birla Carbon’s footprint extends across 12 countries with 16 manufacturing facilities.

The performance impact

Initial evaluations suggest synergies between the companies’ Birla Carbon and BioPlus nanocellulose products to significantly lower the rolling resistance of tires.

What’s that?

Well, when you read anywhere about the impact of tire inflation on fuel efficiency, that relates back to tire rolling. As the US Department of Transportation reports (right here)

Tires affect vehicle fuel economy mainly through rolling resistance. As a tire rolls under the vehicle’s weight, its shape changes repeatedly as it experiences recurring cycles of deformation and recovery. In the process, mechanical energy otherwise available to turn the wheels is converted into heat and dissipated from the tire.

The US Department of Energy reports, “Rolling resistance is the energy lost from drag and friction of a tire rolling over a surface…It is estimated that 5%-15% of light-duty fuel consumption is used to overcome rolling resistance for passenger cars. For heavy trucks, this quantity can be as high as 15%-30%.

A California Energy Commission survey dating back to 2003 looked at the potential for energy savings. This report (right here) found that the opportunity for cost-effective energy savings was about 300 million gallons of gasoline per year, in California alone, resulting from a 3% average improvement in the fuel efficiency of light-duty vehicles currently operating on replacement tires.

The Nanocellulose backstory

Nanocellulose is a versatile high-strength, light-weight renewable biomaterial that Thomson Reuters named as one of the top 10 technologies that will change the world by 2025. API has been granted seven patents and has over 100 patents pending in the nanocellulose field. API estimates the near-term global market size for nanocellulose to be 3.7 million tons per year.

API has developed two distinct nanocellulose production processes, BioPlus (for various end-uses including reinforcement of plastics and rubber) and BioPlus GreenBox+ (for brown packaging and plastics reinforcement) that are both demonstrated at the 0.5 ton per day scale at their Thomaston Biorefinery in Georgia.

We have more on nanocellulose here.

Reaction from the stakeholders

Charles Herd, PhD, Director of Birla Carbon’s Rubber Black Technology, comments, “Low rolling resistance has been and has become an ever increasing area of investment and technological development for tire manufacturers in all aspects of tire technology including design, construction and materials. The synergies between carbon black and nanocellulose offer an exciting opportunity to meet the performance and environmental demands placed on us as a responsible manufacturing entity in a global society.”

According to Theodora Retsina, PhD, CEO of American Process Inc., “In addition to its exceptional sustainability profile, nanocellulose offers tremendous performance improvements for a variety of materials applications including rubber. With strength equivalent to carbon fiber, nanocellulose can improve the strength, durability, and
toughness of composites. It also shows unique synergistic effects with other filler materials like carbon black in improving composite performance.”

Kim Nelson, PhD, API’s VP of Nanocellulose remarks, “This partnership has many synergies including Birla Carbon’s technical expertise, rigorous and disciplined development program, and world-class research facility in Marietta, Georgia. Our ability to offer large-scale quantities of a variety of nanocellulose products with various particle sizes and surface chemistries also enhances the development process.”

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