Never Buy Tires Again? Introducing Michelin’s Sustainable Tire Concept

Michelin Sustainable Tire

They’re Airless, Recyclable, Re-Treadable. We could go for that.

Here’s a very delightful idea: A tire that is designed with the molecular structure and resiliency of plants. It’s made of plant-based materials and is solid, not inflated (a ‘tweel,’ they call it, a combination of a tire and a wheel). It’s embedded with electronics that feed information to your car so you (and it) always know how your tires are managing road conditions.

And it has a 3-D printable surface tread so it can be adapted to driving needs, updated as needed or the tread can be changed if you decide you want or need something different.

Pretty wild, huh?

Turning a wild concept into reality

Recently Michelin introduced this idea at its Movin’On Conference. Called the Michelin Visionary Concept, it is under development at the company’s headquarters in France. The goal is to develop the concept and bring it to market over the next decade, and along the way, to reinvent how tires are designed and made.

This is a huge opportunity because the future of mobility—from mass transit to personal cars—includes tires. Even automated driving, driverless cars and multi-modal (car-to-train-to-bike for example) transportation rely on tires as a key component.

Beefing up teen safety on the road, tires included

Tires might be the next revolution of sustainability

Tires may represent one of the biggest opportunities in sustainable development: tires aren’t transportation’s greenest segment, but they could be. They are not easily (if at all) recycled, they wear out quickly and they represent a significant opportunity to reduce fuel usage; the less of a tire’s surface that touches the ground, the less fuel it takes to move that vehicle, so, even more efficiency is possible.

So far we’ve been clever about recycling tires, chopping them up for playground mulch, melting them for use in asphalt or turning them into more tires. But due to the composition of tires, the steel belts and other materials that are under the surface, they are difficult to recycle; most old tires are simply burned. Horrible for the environment if not done properly.

What if you could pick your efficiency and safety, too?

Yes, we want sustainable tires. But we want efficient tires, too: efficient in how they impact the use of fuel, efficient in what they cost. So picture this: 

It’s summer in Atlanta. It’s hot, dry and driving conditions are generally great. This is an example of when you can drive safely with the least amount of tread and save the most amount of fuel (gas, electricity,  hydrogen or your own muscle power—energy is energy).

But then, the weather turns; rainy days are ahead and ice and snow are regulars in the forecast. You need more tread on your tires to be safe in these challenging driving conditions, even though you’ll use more energy.

Meet Sarah Robinson, Michelin’s top test driver

Michelin Sustainable Tire

Michelin’s 3-D printable tread can be customized to your driving conditions Photo: Michelin

3-D printed tread: THIS is a game changer

That’s the idea of the 3-D printed tire tread. When winter weather is about to set in, pull into a printing station and add more tread to your tire. When  driving conditions are warm and dry, have that winter tread erased and summer tread printed onto your tire.

If your car’s ride is feeling a little rough, add a tread that will create a smoother ride.  And for the speed-demons among us, have racing tread put on your Hellcat and head out to the track.

And just imagine how easy it will be to repair a tire in the wake of winter potholes. That alone makes some of us wish and dream about the day that Michelin’s Visionary Concept comes to fruition. I’ll take four, please.

Can’t wait for this concept? What you need to know about buying tires now

Disclosure: I was Michelin’s guest at the Movin’On Conference. Travel and accommodations were provided, but all opinions expressed are my own.

Michelin Sustainable Tire

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss