Cutting edge or pie in the sky?: Amerityre aims to change the future of tire-making

June 1, 2001

Members of the Flat Earth Society would probably deny membership to Richard Steinke, CEO of Amerityre Corp. But he couldn't care less. A revolutionary by his own definition, Steinke's convictions are locked into an air/no air polyurethane prototype tire.

"We have reinvented the tire," he claims. "I call it the greatest advance in tire-making since vulcanization. The conventional tire industry has been building tires pretty much the same way for 100 years, but what we're doing in Nevada is revolutionary."

Steinke plans to build solid elastomer passenger and light truck tires with built-in low-pressure air chambers and unheard of run-flat capabilities. At the moment, only four prototype tires currently exist, none so far with beads, plies or belts. The final, ready-for-the-street product will include all three components, however.

"Because we're using polyurethane, a material that will outlast rubber three to one, we are able to provide the same ride qualities as a conventional rubber tire along with outstanding run-flat performance," he says.

Steinke claims his tire design can't go flat. "That's partly because of our monolithic tire construction and partly because of our closed cell technology that also allows us to build tires to fill virtually every kind of load carrying capacity challenge.

"Within two years, I hope to begin production of air/no air passenger and light truck tires with run-flat capabilities. From our facility in Nevada we will build a new tire every 20 seconds."

Unlike rubber tires, which vary in weight, every "Amerityre" will be nearly identical in weight, "within one/100th of a pound," according to Steinke. Equally astonishing is his claim that his mold will cost around $4,000 each, a fraction of the $30,000 to $40,000 paid by conventional tire manufacturers.

Testing the concept

Steinke has been testing 14-inch air/no air polyurethane tires on a 2000 Ford Ranger at Amerityre's test site in Nevada. He says the tires have logged between 600 and 700 miles at speeds up to 50 mph at zero psi.

"Our tire can handle more than 2,000 pounds of load, without air, which makes it appealing as a run-flat tire. When inflated to seven psi, these tires will run for 50,000 to 70,000 miles if properly rotated and checked for inflation pressure as you would a conventional tire."

According to Vice President of Operations Jim Moore, the company developed a mechanical design procedure that provides for the design and testing of the tire before it is manufactured. "We can test for both vertical and horizontal loading with or without air. In other words, we can produce tires to meet specific load-carrying capacity and other types of requirements.

"Equally important, our tires are perfectly balanced and round, resulting in a smooth ride. That's because the monolithic (one-piece) design of our tire eliminates tread separations, and the low psi requirements eliminates blowouts."

Multiple uses

By comparison, Steinke says his design can be adapted to different uses. Take farm tires, for example "If a farmer wants us to build a heavy agricultural tire, we can build it to his exact specifications.

"Importantly, these tires can't go flat and because we can make them as heavy as the farmer needs them to be there is no need to fill them with calcium chloride.

"That means no more downtime waiting for a tire service truck to replace a flat tire, no more calcium chloride spills, which kills the soil, and no more filling farm tires with costly calcium chloride. Also important, mud won't stick to polyurethane farm tires."

How about the run-flat tires used on Corvettes? Steinke says running what he calls "four crutch tires with run-flat inserts is like using eight tires on a Corvette instead of four. The structural design of our tire lets us go all the way up to 31 psi, provide the same deflection and carry a load capacity of 2,100 pounds per tire. And if for some reason the tire loses its air, it could still run for hundreds of miles and support the load required."

For the record, Amerityre already is producing closed-cell polyurethane foam tires for the bicycle, lawn, garden and thrill-ride markets.

Pouring his heart out

Steinke talks often about "the pour." It's what happens in his production process when the polyurethane mix is introduced.

"We pour our heated polyurethane mixture into our molds. As the liquid begins to fill the mold, pressurized air moves it from the center to the outer edges of the mold."

Although his prototype tires are absent beads, belts and plies, Steinke says those will be added to the mold, and the liquid will envelope them completely. "Because of this, we will not require adhesives to hold one tire component to another."

He says tiremakers added steel belts "in the interest of making tires more round so they could go further and that created a new challenge. When they added steel belts they had to find a way to make rubber adhere to steel. Later, tiremakers added nylon cap plies -- yet another layer that required adhesives.

"It is the flexing of the steel belts that can create a passageway for air loss and possible tread separations. To me, every layer of a conventionally made tire is a weakness held together by adhesives. We have moved past that."

Steinke says he will use only polyester, nylon or fiberglass for beads, plies and belt materials.

Environmentally safe

"We believe the environmentalists will be pleased with what we are doing," says Moore. "First, the virgin urethanes we use have no tendencies to leach, migrate or breakdown as other plastics and rubbers do.

"There are at least four chemicals used in rubber that are listed as carcinogens -- butadiene, chloroprene, sulfuric acid and benzene. But the urethane chemistry utilized by Amerityre is free of all and any types or forms of carcinogens.

"For this reason, our tires cannot leach harmful carcinogens into the soil when they have completed their life cycle. This is very much unlike rubber tires, which leach rubber (along with carcinogens) into the soil."

Moore says the tires can be shredded and recycled after they outlive their usefulness.

The use of polyurethane over rubber has a number of advantages, he continues. "For openers, it gets rid of heat faster than rubber, something we have tested repeatedly on our test wheel. Further, polyurethane outperforms rubber in tensile strength testing, under compression or tension.

"We can also produce tires to meet any durometer requested, from the 75 used in many conventional passenger tires down to a 70 or a 60 durometer."

Moore says Amerityre also has conducted tests with a major tire company, a major independent chemical company and a major independent lab. "Our tire material chemistry passed all of the tire company's tests. Also, in 16 of the 18 tests we've performed comparing polyurethane to rubber, we've significantly outperformed rubber. We believe we can win the battle of materials because ours is better than rubber."

Entrepreneur Alan Rypinski, who built Armor All into a household word, is part of Steinke's vision. He says the Amerityre tire plant will not pollute the air when it goes on stream. "There will be no harmful emissions introduced into the environment. Even inside the plant, we will operate in a totally clean environment."

Looking to the future

Rypinski says any company without a license to produce air/no air polyurethane tires "will end up sitting on the sidelines." He believes the Amerityre polyurethane tire will contribute substantially to better gas mileage because of its inherently low rolling resistance. "Neither will this tire weather like rubber tires... our tires will not develop surface cracks, turn strange colors or weather check due to ozone, sun and oxygen damage."

The future is bright, according to Rypinski. "We expect to partner with one of the major tire companies, and want to engage in talks that would result in licensing others to build air/no air polyurethane tires for the passenger, light truck agricultural and airplane tire markets.

"We have also talked with a national powerhouse retailer about setting up a relationship and with car companies about such things as using polyurethane spare tires or polyurethane material in the trunk area to help absorb energy in the event of rear-end crash.

"We believe we are taking positive steps that will benefit everyone from tiremakers to vehicle makers to consumers," he says. "The plan is to sell our tires at a premium price because of their many benefits. That's why we are attracting so much media and industry attention and will continue to do so."

Is Amerityre unique? Maybe not: Firestone presented a similar idea 31 years ago

In April of 1970, I was handed the keys to a new Ford Mustang equipped with four bright red Firestone super-secret liquid rubber molded tires. According to Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., it took just 30 seconds to produce the almost perfectly round tire. The company said full-scale production of the design would drastically reduce labor costs.

I drove at speeds up to 80 mph on the prototype Firestone tires that were designed to run at 24 psi. At the time, Firestone said it wanted to develop the tire further into a semi-pneumatic tire containing nothing more than an atmospheric chamber -- thus eliminating the problem of proper inflation pressure.

The new Firestone tire had two wire beads, but no cords, plies or fabric reinforcement. Firestone contended that when shot full of holes, the tire body, which they said supported 60% of the load, was structurally strong enough to support a near normal load without any air and could be driven for 50 miles in that condition. Fleet testing of several hundred tires had proved successful, according to the company; the tire also exceeded DOT durability and high speed testing requirements.

But 31 years later, the tire has yet to reach the market. Time will tell if Amerityre Corp. will be any more successful.