Tires made from wood sound like a joke–hey, could they be square, too, just to complete the effect?–but wood science researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) claim that they could be superior to standard rubber ones in cost, fuel efficiency, and performance.
Full disclosure: The OSU team isn’t actually going to be outfitting your Honda Accord with a ring made carved out of a dead oak: The Beavers (really) have replaced silica with microcrystalline cellulose extracted from plant fiber to act as a reinforcing filler in rubber tires.
It sounds like a minor fix, but experiments have shown that the cellulose decreases the energy needed to manufacture the tires, improves heat resistance, and keeps tensile strength. That’s not all: The cellulose also decreases rolling resistance in hot weather, thus improving fuel efficiency when it’s steamy outside.
The idea of using cellulose as a reinforcement in rubber and automotive products isn’t entirely new. The fiber has been used in belts, hoses, and insulation, but the OSU researchers are the first to test it with tires. We probably won’t see cellulose-reinforced tires on the market anytime soon; researchers still have to confirm their long-term durability. In the meantime, we can marvel at Donald Gilmore’s crazy 100% wooden tires.