Automobile owners around the world may some day soon be driving on tires that are partly made out of trees – which could cost less, perform better and save on fuel and energy.
Wood science researchers at Oregon State University have made some surprising findings about the potential of microcrystalline cellulose – a product that can be made easily from almost any type of plant fibers – to partially replace silica as a reinforcing filler in the manufacture of rubber tires.
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.
“We were surprised at how favorable the results were for the use of this material,” said Kaichang Li, an associate professor of wood science and engineering in the OSU College of Forestry, who conducted this research with graduate student Wen Bai.
“This could lead to a new generation of automotive tire technology, one of the first fundamental changes to come around in a long time,” Li said…
In the search for new types of reinforcing fillers that are inexpensive, easily available, light and renewable, OSU experts turned to microcrystalline cellulose – a micrometer-sized type of crystalline cellulose with an extremely well-organized structure. It is produced in a low-cost process of acid hydrolysis using nature’s most abundant and sustainable natural polymer – cellulose – that comprises about 40-50 percent of wood…
More research is needed to confirm the long-term durability of tires made with partial replacement of silica, Li said. Further commercial development of this technology by a tire manufacturer could be undertaken at any time, he said. The newest findings were just published in a professional journal, Composites Part A: Applied Science and Manufacturing.
As much as we’re headed towards success in replacing hydrocarbons in transportation, we ain’t getting rid of the wheel for a spell. Replacing carbon black and refined silica would be a boon.
Especially if the replacement comes from a renewable – instead of consumable raw materials.
Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have discovered a potential chink in the armor of fibers that make the cell walls of certain inedible plant materials so tough. The insight ultimately could lead to a cost-effective and energy-efficient strategy for turning biomass into alternative fuels.
In separate papers published in Biophysical Journal and recently in an issue of Biomacromolecules, Los Alamos researchers identify potential weaknesses among sheets of cellulose molecules comprising lignocellulosic biomass, the inedible fibrous material derived from plant cell walls. The material is a potentially abundant source of sugar that can be used to brew batches of methanol or butanol, which show potential as biofuels…
Working with other researchers, Los Alamos researcher Paul Langan used neutrons to probe the crystalline structure of highly crystalline cellulose, much like an X-ray is used to probe the hidden structures of the body. Langan and his colleagues found that although cellulose generally has a well-ordered network of hydrogen bonds holding it together, the material also displays significant amounts of disorder, creating a different type of hydrogen bond network at certain surfaces. These differences make the molecule potentially vulnerable to an attack by cellulase enzymes.
Moreover, in this month’s Biophysical Journal, Los Alamos researchers Tongye Shen and Gnana Gnanakaran describe a new lattice-based model of crystalline cellulose. The model predicts how hydrogen bonds in cellulose can shift to remain stable under a wide range of temperatures. This plasticity allows the material to swap different types of hydrogen bonds but also constrains the molecules so that they must form bonds in the weaker configuration described by Langan and his colleagues. Most important, Shen and Gnanakaran’s model identifies hydrogen bonds that can be manipulated via temperature differences to potentially make the material more susceptible to attack by enzymes that can crack the fibers into sugars for biofuel production.
“We have been able to identify a chink in the armor of a very tough and worthy adversary—the cellulose fiber,” said Gnanakaran, who leads the theoretical portion of a large, multidisciplinary biofuels project at Los Alamos. “These results are some of the first to come from this team, and eventually could point us toward an economical and viable process for making biofuels from cellulosic biomass,” adds Langan, director of the biofuels project.
Folks down here in Santa Fe County have a friendly, though occasionally adversarial, relationship with the Los Alamos scientists “up on the hill”. We often refer to them somewhat fondly as “coneheads”.
Truth is – when they’re allowed to crank some of that high-priced brain power to useful ends – the Labs are capable of producing serious breakthroughs that mean a lot more to the citizens of this planet than the latest and greatest plutonium bomb.
Maybe – just maybe – over the course of Obama’s administration, research that points in the green direction rather than straight to hell will be the rule rather than the exception?