What are airless tires? Technology, durability and future prospects

While tires have come a long way since the dawn of the automobile age, their basic concept remains the same: a rubbery air-filled (or more recently nitrogen-filled) donut. Traditional high-pressure tires are used to support the car, absorb bumps, and provide the necessary traction and grip to drive safely. However, airless tires, also known as non-pneumatic tires or run-flat tires, are a revolutionary new design that eliminates the need to keep tires inflated with air.

Airless tires should not be confused with run-flat tires. These are specifically designed air-filled tires with additional sidewall reinforcement making them capable of driving around 50 miles at a top speed of 50 mph, even when deflated after a puncture. ‘Flat-free’ airless tires are so named because they never fill with air and therefore can never get a flat in the first place.

While the use of airless tires is already a reality in small vehicles such as motorized golf carts or equipment such as lawn mowers, their testing and application in large passenger vehicles is a more recent development.

Most airless tire designs use strong interlocking spokes or mesh-like structures that surround the wheel and can flex and change shape as the car moves forward and over bumps. There is still a lot of development and testing to be done before airless tires are available to consumers on a large scale, but reports suggest that Michelin could introduce its Uptis (Unique Puncture-Proof Tire System), made from a resin embedded high strength. with fiberglass, starting in 2024. Uptis tires will reportedly be available in the East Asian market to begin with, where poor road surfaces make their durability a big advantage.

What are the advantages of airless tires?

no punctures

The most immediate benefit of a flat tire is that it eliminates the risk of a flat tire that can leave your car limping or even stranded on the side of the road while you change the wheel, dig out the puncture repair kit, or wait for help. .

Tire puncture change

You are less likely to experience problems with airless tires that cannot be punctured. Goodyear’s rigorous airless tire testing reveals that while it is possible for the spokes to deform and break, they can continue to function safely afterward.

No need for spare tires

Since drivers are much less likely to encounter a problem with their tires, there will be less need for a spare or puncture repair kit in cars. In recent times, it has become much less common for cars to come with full-size spare tires. Many only come with space savers that can’t be used for extended periods or have a puncture repair tube and electric tire inflator. Airless tires completely eliminate the need for this equipment, leaving more trunk storage space for luggage.

Airless tires could help companies save money

Massive disruptions can be caused to major industries such as agriculture, mining, and construction if the vehicles they heavily rely on suffer tire failure. The same can be said for those in the taxi or public transportation industry: a taxi or bus with a flat tire is a loss to someone’s livelihood and a potential obstruction to other drivers. With the eradication of flat tires, these industries can remain productive and efficient while keeping costs low.

Airless tires last longer and require less maintenance than conventional tires

Kia Rio Tires

It has been suggested that airless tires could also last up to three times longer than conventional tyres, meaning they will need to be replaced much less frequently. There is no need to adjust the tire pressure, which means that the tires always work in the optimal state to save fuel and protect against excessive wear.

The Michelin ‘Tweel’ (a combination of the words ‘tyre’ and ‘wheel’) has been around since 2005 and has so far been used successfully on light, slow-moving vehicles used in agriculture and construction.

Potential for less CO2 emissions

Tires experience what is known as rolling resistance. Energy is lost when a tire flexes upon contact with the road surface, making it harder to roll and requiring more power from the car’s engine to move. Some manufacturers, such as Bridgestone, argue that the rolling resistance in their airless tire concept is as low as that of their fuel efficient, inflated ‘Ecopia’ tyres, making them more efficient than the average standard tyre.

Airless tires can be easily recycled

Many tire companies claim that their airless tire designs are made from completely recycled materials and can be recycled in the future to create new airless tires. Bridgestone calls this its ‘cradle-to-cradle’ system, and its non-pneumatic tires will be the first of all tire types to make this a reality.

What are the disadvantages of airless tires?

Michelin Uptis - tire

Airless tires are noisy

One of the limitations of airless tires is that they are currently much noisier than conventional air-filled ones. Airless tires also transmit more vibrations through the vehicle than traditional tires, although technology is progressing to improve this. For now, though, drivers used to the response and feel of regular tires may find it hard to get used to flat tires.

Airless tires are expensive to buy

For now, at least, airless tires are expensive. The Michelin Tweel costs up to $750 per wheel (about £630 in the UK) depending on size and type, but that’s for a tire and wheel combination. These are also limited to a top speed of just 38 mph and are only available for use in UTV-style small commercial vehicles.

As long as larger airless tires are available on everyday passenger vehicles, they are also likely to be relatively expensive initially. However, if they catch on and become widespread, the high costs could eventually come down.

Not all airless tires reduce CO2 emissions

While Bridgestone claims that cars fitted with its airless tires could produce lower CO2 emissions compared to cars fitted with average tires, not everyone agrees. Some claim that most airless tires do, in fact, have a larger contact patch (the area of ​​the tire that makes contact with the road surface) and therefore have a higher rolling resistance. This can make a car’s engine less efficient as it has to use more energy and fuel to get the wheels moving, which also increases CO2 emissions. In the case of electric cars, this means that range and battery life could be negatively affected.

Clearly, the design of each individual type of airless tire has a significant impact on its rolling resistance, so manufacturers will seek to develop airless tires that provide advantages in terms of fuel economy and emissions.

While airless tires are not yet available, check out our list of best tires to buy now

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