Sunflower Oil Hits the Road
It turns out that sunflower oil is good for baking and braking.
That’s right, braking — as in your car’s brakes.
Michelin’s new Primacy MXM4, unveiled earlier this year, boasts a unique rubber compound that incorporates sunflower oil in order to offer improved performance in both wet and snowy weather.
Production of the tire using sunflower oil began at a Michelin facility in South Carolina.
Mike Wischhusen, director of industry standards for Michelin North America, notes that vegetable oils have been used as extender oils in the rubber industry (not only tires) for several years.
Why sunflower oil, in particular?
“We encountered sunflower oil specifically over the past decade when we were faced with the technical challenge of developing a high-performance tire for modern luxury performance vehicles that could still deliver superior cold-weather winter grip on wet and snowy roads — the concept of a high-performance all-season tire,” Wischhusen comments.
The use of sun oil in the tire’s patented “Helio Compound” increases traction at low temperatures for braking and handling in wet conditions and has better overall performance in the snow. In fact, Primacy MXM4 tires are able to stop up to 19 feet shorter in wet conditions than a leading competitor, according to Michelin.
The company’s priority was to design a new tire with a specific consumer benefit in mind. Sunflower oil provides unique properties to cured rubber that allowed Michelin to overcome one of the traditional balance-of-performance issues when trying to design high-performance all-season tires.
“The use of sunflower oil in our tread rubber delivers the rigidity, grip and durability characteristics necessary for high-performance tires — and, more importantly, retains that same performance as temperatures decrease to freezing levels: a snowy or wet winter road,” Wischhusen explains. “Other types of oils can achieve that performance level at high temperatures (summer) or low temperatures (winter) but not both. Sunflower oil allows us to break a traditional compromise and deliver the full-time balance of performance that consumers need.”
Tire developers at Michelin use a high-oleic variety of sunflower oil. For tires produced in the United States, they use U.S.-sourced sunflower oil.
Not only does the new technology give the driver better stability on the roadway, it also helps the environment. The oil compound gives increased rigidity in the tread block or groove pattern, increasing mileage and, in turn, decreasing CO2 emissions.
The tire was made available to consumers in North America on July 1. It is an original equipment release for luxury car makers including Acura, BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. Michelin also is considering developing the tire for replacement size tires. — Sonia Mullally
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