A team at Virginia Tech has been selected for a 1.5 million USD project that will explore the use of additive manufacturing in tire retreading.
The project was born out of the REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership established by the U.S. Department of Energy focused on accelerating the U.S. transition to a circular economy, and will be supported by researchers at Arizona State University, and industrial partners at Michelin. Tim Long, professor and director of Arizona State’s Biodesign Center for Sustainable Macromolecular Material and Manufacturing will provide expertise in synthesis of high-performance elastomers that are suitable for 3D printing.
The project specifically aims to tackle wear and improve the efficiency of commercial vehicles, such as tractor trailers, which are used to transport consumer goods and materials. When commercial tires wear out, they are typically put through a retreading process which buffs away the surface and adds a new layer. However, this is said to lead to nearly 9 pounds of wasted excess material per tire, and a potential drop in vehicle fuel efficiency. It is estimated that around 14.5 million tires go through this retreading process annually.
The team at Virginia Tech is being led by Chris Williams, L.S. Randolph Professor in Mechanical Engineering, and aims to use 3D scanning, 3D printing, and industrial robotics to develop a new manufacturing process that selectively deposits Long’s materials along the tire surface to meet the performance requirements of the tire industry.
“We are really excited to undertake this challenging project, which integrates advances in polymer science and manufacturing including 3D scanning, 3D printing, and industrial robotics,” said Williams. “If all goes well, the resulting retreading technology could result in annual reductions of about 90 metric kilotons of tire waste and 800 metric kilotons of CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions across the retreading industry.”
The funding features a 1:1 cost share between the REMADE Institute and Virginia Tech. The development and evaluation of the bonding materials, along with the methods for applying and curing them on the tire, will draw upon Virginia Tech’s experience in polymer science, particularly its Macromolecules Innovation Institute (MII) polymer science hub, of which Williams is an affiliate.
Robert Moore, director of MII, added: “On behalf of MII, we are very proud that the REMADE Institute has recognised that this team of our faculty and students is uniquely skilled to take on the profound challenges of this project — from the basic science needed to create new materials capable of seamlessly mating with complex tire surfaces to engineering principles that will ensure durable tires that meet strict safety requirements."