Airless tires are used on some small vehicles such as lawn mowers, or with heavy equipment where risk of punctures is high and comfort is unnecessary, but pneumatic tires (tires requiring air-inflation) have been the best answer for the comfort and performance of passenger vehicles since 1895.
Tire manufacturers like Bridgestone, Hankook and Michelin are developing airless tire solutions for automobiles. Although the prototypes are still being developed, the future looks bright for these revolutionary new tire designs.
The airless tire technology features a unique spoke structure designed to support the weight of a vehicle, effectively eliminating the need to periodically refill the tires with air. The TWEEL by Michelin is already on the market for ORVs and tractors.
Bridgestone’s air free concept non-pneumatic tire features improved load-bearing capabilities, environmental design and driving performance. However, there are developments and enhancements to be made before airless tires are available for consumers. Finding a way to avoid trapping debris within the spokes, as well as developing the best way to distribute weight evenly and consistently for example.
Hankook is working on the iFlex. They announced successful testing 2 years ago, but obviously these things take time.
NO FLAT TIRES – EVER
With airless tires, you never have to worry about your tires leaking air. For most drivers, this feature will sound nothing short of revolutionary. When you run over a sharp object in the road, you won’t have to worry about a flat tire, since there is no air to leak. An end to the days of changing a tire on the highway shoulder would be welcome to motorists everywhere.
YOU WON’T NEED A SPARE TIRE
Since you won’t be changing or repairing a flat, you don’t need to carry a spare. Just like cars using run-flat tires, this feature could free up trunk space. No spare also means less weight and less weight means better fuel economy.
REDUCED CO2 EMISSIONS
About 90% of energy loss from tire rolling resistance comes from repeated changes in the shape of the tires as they roll. By simplifying the structure of the tire, Bridgestone was able to minimize the energy loss in their air free concept tires. As a result, the tires have the same low level of rolling resistance as the manufacturer’s pneumatic fuel efficient tires, contributing to reductions in CO2 emissions.
This has previously been an large disadvantage of airless tires. They generally can have a higher rolling resistance than pneumatic tires of the same shape and size. Other problems for airless heavy equipment tires include dissipating the heat buildup that occurs when they are driven. Airless tires are often filled with compressed polymers (plastic), rather than air or can be a solid molded product.
The materials used in the tires are recyclable. No part of the Bridgestone non-pneumatic tires ever needs to go in the garbage. Hankook makes a 95% recyclability claim. In any case, the advancing development of the air-free concept tires as a more environmentally friendly product is outstanding and will create a system in which all tires are first recycled and then factory-refashioned into new tires.
When these great new tires do finally make it to the automotive market, they will quickly become invaluable and it won’t be long before we wonder what we ever did without them.