For a growing number of people around the world, the dream of owning their own car is rapidly coming within reach. As climate change becomes an increasingly pressing problem and resources continue to dwindle, cars need to become more economical. Tires can play an important part in achieving this, with cutting-edge synthetic rubbers from specialty chemicals company LANXESS helping to reduce rolling resistance. Closer cooperation between rubber producers and automakers could also yield additional opportunities. Two presentations given by experts from synthetic rubber pioneer LANXESS highlight the potential of such collaboration and how tire production can be made more cost-efficient through the use of improved rubber formulations. The speeches form part of the 7th international Intelligent Tire Technology conference taking place in Darmstadt, Germany, in September 2011.
“The introduction of 'green tires' in the 1990s, for example, shows that polymer chemistry can play a key role in the development of resource-saving tires,” says Christoph Kalla, head of marketing and R&D in LANXESS' Performance Butadiene Rubbers business unit. “As well as being safer, these tires also used approximately 20 percent less energy than their predecessors. This is in part due to the use of special synthetic rubbers.” In his presentation entitled “Sustainable Mobility – How LANXESS brings it to the road”, Kalla points out that rubbers already supplied by his company could further reduce the all-important rolling resistance of new tires by approximately 10 percent.
He also explains that innovative elastomers from LANXESS – such as specially functionalized SSBR rubbers and neodymium polybutadienes that exhibit a particularly narrow molecular weight distribution and can also be processed easily – hold even greater potential. And this, he claims, is all the more relevant as the new tire labeling system is rolled out in the EU. While the new labeling requirements will, for the first time, enable customers to identify fuel-saving tires, they simultaneously present both an opportunity and a challenge for tire manufacturers. So far, no tire has yet achieved the top classification under the new labeling system. “The challenge is to make tires less fuel-hungry without compromising their drive and safety characteristics or making them more difficult to produce,” says Kalla. “It can be done.” However, according to Kalla, an in-depth understanding of rubber chemistry and physics is essential – and that is exactly what LANXESS has built up over the decades as one of the largest and most versatile synthetic rubber manufacturers in the world.
Kalla also discusses an issue that sounds somewhat controversial for a rubber supplier – “Despite all the high-end chemistry in the world, it will never be possible to reduce the rolling resistance of tire rubber to zero due to its physical characteristics. So we need to make more efficient use of this material, and that too requires high-performance rubbers – rubbers that can deliver the desired tire characteristics with less material.” He also believes it is worthwhile thinking again about what a tire has to do. “For example, it can make sense to assign some of the properties of the tire to the chassis. That's why it is also important for rubber developers to sit down not just with tire manufacturers but with automakers as well. If we bring our perspective into the development process, everyone can benefit.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Dietmar Hoff from Marketing & sales for Release Agents and Bladders at LANXESS' independent Rhein Chemie Rheinau GmbH business unit wants to tap into new potential for tire manufacturers. In his presentation entitled “Significantly increased cycle times by using professional bladders”, Hoff shows how rubber and manufacturing know-how can help increase the service life of bladders in tire production while vulcanization times can also be lowered. Bladders are a kind of heated bellows made from butyl rubber that are inflated with hot steam under pressure and press the tire blank against the inside of the vulcanizing press during the vulcanization process. As a result, they are directly involved in the shaping and vulcanization processes. An innovative ventilation system can also enhance the surface quality of tires and help to minimize reject rates in production, while smart release agents can reduce adhesion between the bladder and the tire compound. Know-how from Rhein Chemie can help in a variety of ways to ensure the production process runs smoothly and is cost-effective.
Both presentations highlight the potential that can be harnessed when rubber expertise, tire production and automobile manufacturing are intelligently interlinked. “The task is to pool as much tire know-how as possible,” sums up Kalla.
LANXESS (lanxess.com) is a leading specialty chemicals company with sales of EUR 7.1 billion in 2010 and currently around 15,800 employees in 30 countries. The company is at present represented at 46 production sites worldwide. The core business of LANXESS is the development, manufacturing and marketing of plastics, rubber, intermediates and specialty chemicals. LANXESS is a member of the leading sustainable indices Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) World and FTSE4Good.