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Your (Tire) Future According To Michelin

Your (Tire) Future According To Michelin (select to view enlarged photo)
Your (Tire) Future According To Michelin

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

AMSTERDAM, August 10, 2011; Public transport with in- and egress, never again a flat tire, more efficient truck haulage… That’s what the future has in store for us, thanks to innovative tire technology developed by Michelin. The French manufacturer presented its innovations during the 11th Michelin Challenge Bibendum, an international five day event with conferences, workshops and demonstrations concerning solutions for sustainable mobility.

In 1998, Michelin and its partners organized the Challenge for the first time. In the meantime, the event can be considered as a major worldwide platform for companies to promote products, visions and development for mobility of the future.

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This year’s meeting place was the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin. It was just too early for the premiere of the BMW i-models, but the other German and European car manufacturers presented one or more prototypes of upcoming low emission models. In more than 50 displays, suppliers showed how they plan to cope with the growing demand for parts involved in the production of more sustainable means of transport.

Except for the prototypes of the Audi Q5 hydrogen, electric A4 and Porsche Boxster electric, 270 sustainable models could be tested on one of the routes that were set up on the airfield, covering a total length of 10 miles

When Michelin organized its first Challenge, hardly anybody talked about CO2-emissions and electric drivelines. Nowadays, fuel efficiency and decreasing emissions are hot issues and Michelin is convinced that the ‘Bibendum’ event is influencing public awareness of technologies that improve fuel efficiency. Such as the eco tires, of which Michelin sells 30 million units a year.

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Patrick Oliva, Michelin’s vice-president and organizer of the event, said the car industry is aware of the necessity to decrease the weight of electric vehicles. “In order to have a range of 62 miles, the current electric car needs around 25 kWh and one kWh costs 400 euros. Even if that could be half as much, the costs are exceptionally high compared with cars with internal combustion engines. Therefore, electric drive has to be optimized and at the same time the weight of cars should drop considerably. The moment we would need 15 kW to drive 62 miles, the price is going to be acceptable.”

In the meantime Michelin is addressing some of the issues that are within the competence of the tire manufacture. In Berlin, the French showed the steps its research and development division is making toward future mobility, without the sacrifice of performance and quality. Its innovations should generate better safety, weight- and fuel-savings and, consequently, lower emissions.

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No More Punctures
One of the innovations is a tire that will not loose even the slightest amount of air. At the Bibendum Challenge, Michelin showed a prototype, mounted on a car that drove back and forth over ‘bed’ with 32 spikes. Such a tire offers better security as well as peace of mind for the driver. Because there is no need for a spare wheel anymore, nor for a crick and wheel wrench SLEUTEL, some 66 lbs can be saved, which will decrease CO2-emission by 1.9 g/km. For the ‘self-repairing’ tire, Michelin has filed 15 patents.

The revolutionary tire is expected to hit the market in 3 to 5 years time and it will mark the end of the run-flat tires, that common now and can be used for about 50 miles with a puncture.

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Active Wheels
In 2008, the tire manufacturer introduced the Active Wheel for electric and hybrid vehicles. It combines an electric engine, suspension, spring and brake in order to save weight and space. That will result in more room for batteries and fuel cells and more freedom for designers, who will be able to achieve better aerodynamics, for instance with a lower nose of the car.

With the ever growing amount of traffic in an ever growing amount of mega cities, Michelin is developing such a motorized wheel now for city buses. It is part of the EILisup Project that is financed by the French environment agency ADEME as part of the 2009 financial support package for innovation programs.

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The development project is based on standard 39 ft m long, electric and hybrid buses, that are equipped with lithium-ion batteries and super capacitors and should result in the possibility for quick charging.

The project also should promote and show that the electrification of public transportation is economically feasible.

Instead of two axles, the buses will get four, of which two axles will have motorized wheels., eliminating the large wheel housings and allowing a different design: with a low and flat floor the height of the bus can be reduced, resulting in a considerable weight saving. The bonus is the easy access of everything with wheels, from cabin rollers to wheel chairs.

More Efficient Haulage
For road haulage, innovative tire technology is also of importance. In two years, Michelin will introduce ca new tire for trailers, which can carry a load of up to 5 tons (+ 10 %). This will allow trailers with two axles to carry the same load as the ones with three axles. “It will cost fewer raw materials, but thanks to a nearly 2 thousand pounds weight reduction, fuel efficiency will be 13 percent more economical and more goods can be transported,” says Pascal Couasnon, Michelin’s vice president for technical and scientifically communication. Already since the beginning of the nineties, Michelin is selling and continuing developing energy saving tires for cars and trucks, which have saved in total some 14 billion liter fuel and over 35 tons of CO2-emission.

The impact of a tire on fuel efficiency is big. They contribute to nearly 20 per cent loss of the energy that is needed to move a vehicle with a combustion engine. In case of an electric vehicle it the loss is 30 per cent.

That is why Michelin developed tires with a large diameter for less roll resistance. They are also fairly small for better aerodynamics. The 155/70/19 – rubber is meant for electric and hybrid cars and adds some 5 percent to the driving range.

And last but not least: not many companies, other than car manufacturers, are developing a fuel cell. Within the F-City H2 project, Michelin is developing a range extender that is a combination of a battery and a fuel cell and has the same weight as a battery pack. This technology will provide the electric car to drive two to four times as far as with current range extenders.

The idea came from within the company’s project ‘Ideas for future mobility’. Couasnon: “It does not necessarily mean that we are going to build such a fuel cell ourselves, but we may sell the license to do so to an interested party.”