Recipe for Green Tires: Plants, Not Petroleum

The New York Times, June 17, 2010

With each new model introduction, automakers take pains to point out how much they have done to reduce their vehicles’ negative effects on the environment. A rundown of the advances can involve almost every aspect of the car’s design and production: carbon dioxide output has been cut; paint application has changed to a water-based process; recycling and waste reduction at the factory has been improved to a point where nothing goes to a landfill.
But when it comes to tires, there has been far less to talk about.

Efforts to burnish the eco-friendliness of tires are growing, though, with an emphasis on reducing the use of raw materials — particularly the five to 10 gallons of petroleum ingredients needed to manufacture a tire.

In recent years, the notion of making tires greener has mostly referred to the improvements in fuel economy that result from reducing their rolling resistance — usually through the use of special rubber formulations and, of course, by assuring that proper inflation pressures are maintained.

The potential gains are substantial. When considering the environmental friendliness of a tire over its full lifespan, the effect on gas mileage actually does more to determine the tire’s total carbon footprint than the choices of raw materials that go into making it. (read more)