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Tires from trees? It's possible, says university

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Car owners may one day drive around on tires that are partly made out of trees, according to researchers at Oregon State University.

Wood reseachers at the university have made "some surprising findings about the potential of microcrystalline cellulose - a product that can be made easily from almost any type of plant fibers -- to partially replace silica as a reinforcing filler in the manufacture of rubber tires."

In the study, Oregon State researchers replaced up to about 12% of the silica used in conventional tire manufacturing, which, according to reports, reduced the amount of energy needed to compound the rubber composite and also improved the heat resistance of the product.

Early tests indicate that tires containing microcrystalline cellulose would have "comparable traction on cold or wet pavement, be just as strong and (would) provide even higher fuel efficiency than traditional tires in hot weather."

Oregon State Associate Professor Kaichang Li says the university's research "could lead to a new generation of automotive tire technology." However, more research is needed to confirm the long-term durability of tires made with the partial replacement of silica.

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