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When the tire hits the road, could it be with trees?

  • 06 August 2009
  • Written by 
  • Published in Energy
An Oregon State University study has shown that automobile tires could someday be made partially out of trees—and they would perform better than silica-based rubber tires, save people money on fuel costs, and cost less to purchase. It sounds like they are "barking up the right tree"!


The OSU media release, dated July 21, 2009, is entitled “Tires made from trees—better, cheaper, more fuel efficient” states that microcrystalline cellulose could partially replace silica and carbon black as a reinforcing filler for tires.

Fibers of cellulose has been used as reinforcement in many types of rubber and automotive products, such as belts and hoses. However, microcrystalline cellulose, a type of cellulose, has never been used for tires. Instead, carbon black and silica are used.

This may change in the future.

Microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) has been found by researchers from Oregon State University (Corvallis, Oregon) to be a very good partial replacement for carbon black and silica within tires.

Cellulose is found in about half of the material within trees, which is a renewable resource.It is an organic compound with the chemical formula: (C6H10O5)n. It is the structural part of green plants, and it is the most commonly found organic compound on Earth.

About 33% of all plant material is cellulose, but its percentage varies among plants. For instance, wood is about 50% cellulose, while cotton has a greater percentage, at 90%.

Microcrystalline cellulose has been used for a long time as a filler and binder for different products within the pharmaceutical, food, and paper industries, among others. MCC is a special grade of cellulose that is derived from high quality wood pulp, specifically from alpha cellulose.

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Learn more about microcrystalline cellulose at the NB Entrepreneurs website and at the University of Nebraska website.

The OSU article states, “A new study suggests that this approach might decrease the energy required to produce the tire, reduce costs, and better resist heat buildup. Early tests indicate that such products would have comparable traction on cold or wet pavement, be just as strong, and provide even higher fuel efficiency than traditional tires in hot weather.”

Dr. Kaichang Li, of the OSU Department of Wood Science and Engineering, and doctoral student Wen Bai conducted the research on microcrystalline cellulose for use within rubber tires.

Dr. Li states, “We were surprised at how favorable the results were for the use of this material.”

Bai is shown in this photograph developing rubber composites at an OSU laboratory using microcrystalline cellulose.

About 12% of silica was replaced with microcrystalline cellulose in their experiments. For more information on the story, please go to the OSU Media Release: “Tires made from trees – better, cheaper, more fuel efficient.”

The summary of their research was published in the journal Composites Part A: Applied Science and Manufacturing.



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