Imagine a world without flat tires – a place where a punctured tire could “heal” itself while your car is parked. Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Polymer Research in Dresden, Germany are hoping to make this flat-free fantasy a reality.
Currently, all rubber used in automobile tires undergoes a process called vulcanization. Vulcanization makes rubber durable while keeping it elastic, by curing it with sulfur or another ingredient. However, the vulcanization process also makes it impossible to patch a tire once it’s been cut or punctured.
The Leibniz researchers were able to modify conventional tire rubber (called bromobutyl rubber) into a highly elastic, self-healing material using carbon and nitrogen additives instead of vulcanization. In their experiments, cut rubber healed itself at room temperature; applying heat made the rubber heal even faster. After eight days, the healed rubber was as strong or stronger than it had been before being cut – strong enough to withstand pressures of more than 750 psi, many times the normal amount of pressure for a car tire.
Other researchers have developed self-healing rubber, but there has always been a tradeoff in terms of the stability or durability of the healed rubber.
Self-healing tires probably won’t be available on TireBuyer anytime soon. But this glimpse into the future of tire technology gets us excited for the day when a tire punctured in the afternoon might heal overnight in the garage – and be good as new by the morning commute!
Photo by Tobin