Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. has signed on to a polyurethane-based automotive tire development program. The project aims to find a plastic replacement for typical rubber tires.
Any commercial production is years away, but continuing research has pushed forward the potential for PU tires, said Dave Russ, spokesman for Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear.
The tire maker signed an agreement Aug. 30 with development company Amerityre Corp. of Boulder City, Nev.
``Amerityre has developed what early tests show may be a viable compound for production of these tires,'' said Joe Gingo, senior vice president for technology and global products for Goodyear, in a written statement.
PU-based tires probably would be far easier and faster to produce, reducing capital investment costs, Gingo noted. The companies did not release any details on the proposal.
Coming up with a PU system has been a Holy Grail for the tire industry for years, Russ said. It will not be easy, though. Tire makers poured research dollars into PU from the 1950s to 1970s but could not come up with anything that matched conventional systems for traction, long life or performance.
``The most important thing is that we are going to get to - or exceed - the safety and performance levels that we're at today, or we're not going to do it,'' he said.
Further studies, though, could lead to a tire that not only meets existing standards but actually improves tread life, uniformity of tire wear and decreases rolling resistance, which would improve gas mileage.
Bankruptcy courts are filled with files from failed companies that have attempted to bring a PU tire to the market, though. So far, the promise typically outweighed actual sales for tires for products such as bicycles, wheelchairs and lawn equipment.
Amerityre itself has posted more than $12 million in losses since its founding in 1995, according to paperwork filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It posted a loss of $2.4 million for the nine months that ended March 31, when it had $85,775 in sales. However, during that same period it also introduced a prototype PU automobile tire.
That development, the company stated, requires ``additional working capital or ... a strategic relationship in order to fully exploit the potential market for this product.''