‘Green tires’ could prompt seismic shift due to energy savings

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‘Green tires’ could prompt seismic shift due to energy savings

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina - The rising trend of building environmentally friendly cars is encouraging tire companies to come up with better products as new technologies are also introduced to promote so-called “green tires.”

At “Mobility Day North America” here on Tuesday, German-based global chemical company Lanxess showcased a concept tire which satisfies the AA standard of the European Union’s tire labeling system that will be launched in November.

Industry insiders predict that the chemical company’s latest technology will help local tire companies develop more advanced green tires faster, especially as Korea is due to introduce its own mandatory tire label regulations under the guidance of the Korea Energy Management Corporation (Kemco) in December.

“Korea is an important market for our company as the nation is the No. 4 tire producer in the world,” said Choi Jin-hwa at Lanxess Korea. “We provide our materials to top three local tire makers.”

Under the new European regulation, tires will be graded from A to G according to how they reduce their rolling resistance, their wet grip and their external rolling noise, measured in decibels. This transparent approach is designed to keep consumers better informed ahead of selecting tires and is part of the burgeoning eco-friendly movement in the global auto industry.

A recent study by the Technical University of Munich shows that shifting over to more eco-friendly tires can reduce rolling resistance by between 20 and 30 percent, which can cut fuel consumption by 5 to 7 percent. They also have a significant impact in lowering a vehicle’s carbon tread-print by scaling back CO2 emissions.

“We are now moving from the age of tire design to the age of tire materials, which will lead to new gains in performance,” Lanxess CEO Axel C. Heitmann said at the event. “Our concept tire will be developed further to ensure that our customers in the industry receive the best materials.”

Lanxess recently came out with neodymium-based performance butadiene rubber (Nd-PBR), solution styrene butadiene rubber (SSBR) and other rubber additives. Nd-PBR, used in the tread and sidewall of tires, is highly resistant to abrasion, which makes tires safer and more durable. SSBR, which is mainly used in tread compounds, helps reduce rolling resistance and aids wet grip, according to the company.

“This technology applies to both new cars and the replacement-tire market,” Heitmann said. “We are proud that our green tire molecules have made the breakthrough possible.”

The Korean unit of the German chemical company posted sales in excess of 300 billion won ($267 million) last year on the back of rising demand. Sales this year are expected to climb even higher, the company said.

The recent study by Kaist shows that the economic and environmental effects of the new tire-efficiency rating system in Korea are likely to reduce fuel consumption by 231 million liters each year, a cost saving of 438 billion won. It is also expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 490,774 tons.

Following the new trend, Korean tire companies have been working to develop greener tires and are set to release AA-qualified products soon.

Hankook Tire, the nation’s largest producer, released “Enfren Eco” in April to follow the trend and is reportedly set to mass-produce its AA-labeled prototype “Ventus S1 Evo 2” next year.

The world’s seventh-largest tire maker is a leading buyer of Nd-PBR and SSBR, and has signed a long-term contract with Lanxess, which makes the materials. The two recently agreed to extend their deal until 2015.

Meanwhile, the nation’s No. 2 player, Kumho Tire, released its eco-friendly “Ecowing S” in March for domestic customers. It is set to commercialize an upgraded version called “Ecowing ES01” this year.

The latter was tested by two European organizations and qualified for Europe’s AA standard. Test Centrum Lelystad (TCL), an independent testing laboratory operated by Netherlands-based motor vehicle authority RDW, tested the Eco Wing for wet grip, while Germany’s TUV SUD tested it for rolling resistance, according to the company. Kumho added that its product recorded a tire noise of 71 decibels.

“We have focused on eco-friendly tire development for years to satisfy the needs of European consumers, who are sensitive to environmental factors,” said Cho Chun-taek, vice president and head of Kumho Tires’ research headquarters.

“Our efforts have paid off, and we finally developed Ecowing ES01, which offers improved energy efficiency, wet grip, noise and durability.”

Nexen Tire, the third-largest tire producer in Korea, is currently promoting its N’Blue Eco tires, which were first launched in August last year. These reportedly met Europe’s BB-standard in June, but the company said it has been working to improve them.

By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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