Bridgestone, the largest tyre company in the world, offers a promising innovation for small city cars.
Until now, puncture-proof tyres have been the privilege of presidential convoys. But unless you were likely to come under fire, these weren't worth the expense. Especially given that the system (a solid plastic tyre inside the rubber one) would only go so far after a puncture before it needed replacing…
All this is about to change. A concept tyre, rolled out by Bridgestone at the Tokyo Motor Show, could mean you never have a flat again. It features a unique structure of thermoplastic resin strips stretching along the inner sides of the tyres, supporting the weight of the vehicle. The tyre doesn't need to be inflated, so it's essentially maintenance-free until it wears out.
Other companies (Greentyre for one) already make puncture-proof tyres by creating tiny air bubbles in an otherwise solid rubber. However, these designs use much more material than a conventional tyre, and recycling is left to the owner. They also haven't been scaled up for anything bigger than a bicycle.
Bridgestone's version is the first to be designed with cars in mind – albeit small ones. Each tyre is strong enough to support about 150kg, and they are currently being tested on small electric vehicles. The company claims this tyre eliminates the need for a spare – which means an even lighter load, cutting fuel costs and giving a bit more boot space (a bonus for tiny city cars).
The expected lifetime of the tyre is still in question, but the design takes its full lifecycle into consideration, using materials that can be reshaped and reused. And this is perhaps the biggest bonus for the environment. Although it is possible to extend the lifetime of a conventional tyre by re-treading it, eventually it might end up as a fuel supplement in a cement kiln, releasing harmful VOCs. "As an industry we have made tremendous progress; the last challenge is to improve recycling", says Peter Taylor, Secretary General of Tyre Recovery Association UK.
Bridgestone plans to develop the technology for commercial use, but has yet to announce a timeline and costs. - Mike Zimonyi