French tyre maker Michelin is currently developing a tyre capable of cracking a mind-blowing 482km/h (300mph), which would allow street-legal hyper-cars like the Bugatti Chiron and Koenigsegg Agera RS to exceed higher straight-line speeds than what they have officially recorded to date (431km/h and 447.2km/h respectively).
“We absolutely have the technology to develop high speed tyres because you know we already producing tyres with military specifications, as well as bespoke versions for the Space Shuttle which need to be both light enough and able to handle high speed friction,” said Cyrille Roget, Michelin's worldwide director for science and communication.
Along with tyres capable of ballistic speeds, Roget also told CarAdvice Michelin is also working on a tyre made from wood that could be available as early as 2020, though don’t expect them to look like Barney Rubble’s car from the Flintstones cartoon series.
“Natural rubber is still a key ingredient of tyres because we are not always able to reproduce nature, but we are also working on the development of synthetic elastomers without the need for oil. The project is called Bio Butterfly and the goal is to produce these synthetic elastomers from wood," Roget said.
“We use cheap waste from the wood industry to create this material and we hope by 2020 to show the world’s first tyres made from wood. You won’t see any actual wood as the wood is used to create the synthetic material inside the tyre."
Essentially, 80 per cent of the raw products that make up a tyre today are made with oil and that’s something the industry would like to reverse over the next 30 years. At the moment recycled materials make up only 2.0 per cent of the tyre, which is why Michelin has acquired a company in Georgia (USA) that’s currently producing a very high-tech powder from recycled tyres.
“Initially, there will only be a small proportion of recycled material in the new tyres, but once the technology has proved itself we will be able to ramp this up with a greater percentage of the wood-derived high-tech powder that is also renewable," Roget continued.
Michelin is also working on a completely airless tyre which it says will revolutionise tyre technology by creating a single wheel-tyre product that will never need to be filled with air and will last the life of the vehicle. The tyre’s durability comes from its honeycomb structure (top) which is said to mimic natural forms like coral and plants.
It’s sounds like pure science-fiction but it’s all part of Michelin’s Visionary Concept that aims to combine several futuristic tyre technologies into one future-proof product.
“This is actually something we are currently working on and which we expect will be ready for market within 10 to 15 years. In fact, we have a plant in South Carolina in the United States that is making what we call Tweel tyres for low-speed application for the mining industry at the moment but with passenger car application to follow," said Roget.
“Incidentally, this is not a new technology, it’s something we first presented in 2005 and even won a TIME Magazine award for it , but there was too much noise and not enough comfort, so we went back to the drawing board and over the years have improved those properties so that we are much closer to the end product. In fact, in 2019 we should be in a position to report some very encouraging news about this innovative product."