SINGAPORE - That yoghurt cup or disposable plastic bottle you put in the recycling bin today could return as a new puncture-proof tyre, and Singapore is playing a part in its development.
French tyre company Michelin is testing this prototype technology here in partnership with logistics company DHL Express.
Michelin, which aims to start selling these puncture-proof tyres in 2024, said motorists will not have to worry about the impact of road conditions on the tyres, or about risks such as losing control of the vehicle or stopping by the roadside because of a flat tyre.
Images of the tyres fitted on a DHL Express delivery van were briefly shared on the Facebook page of a local event company on Dec 1 before they were removed.
When asked, DHL confirmed that the vehicle in the pictures was theirs, but would not give details on the tyres or the reason the van was fitted with them. Michelin also declined to comment.
The Land Transport Authority said it was aware of the testing of these tyres, and has been working with the parties involved to ensure relevant safety measures are in place.
The Straits Times understands that there was at least one test involving such tyres in Singapore at the Changi Exhibition Centre in July 2022. The photos shared on Facebook are likely from a more recent test event in November.
The tyres are puncture-proof because they do not use pressurised air to stay in shape.
Instead, these airless tyres have what looks like rubbery strut structures extending from the edge of the wheel to prop the tyre.
Until now, airless tyres were used only on lighter vehicles, such as the silver and orange shared bicycles used by Mobike when the company was operating in Singapore.
In 2019, Michelin had rolled out a prototype tyre similar to the one on the DHL van at a trade event in Montreal, Canada. It also showcased the tyre in September 2021 at a motor show in Munich, Germany.
The company has said the prototypes will be tested in real-life conditions in different parts of the world during its development.
Michelin also said it will start to use materials recycled from yoghurt cups and plastic bottles in its tyres, including the airless tyre, from 2024.
In addition to giving more convenience and enhancing safety, a tyre immune to punctures and blowout means it can be used to its maximum lifespan – which makes the technology environmentally sustainable, said Michelin.
Research that it conducted between 2012 and 2015 found that 20 per cent of all tyres scrapped annually were those that punctured or had uneven wear because they did not have the right amount of air pressure. By that calculation, Michelin said, switching to airless tyres can save up to 200 million tonnes of waste each year.
Dr Andre Lam, a motoring expert who reviews tyres, said the tests in Singapore are probably to examine how the puncture-proof tyres perform in a hot and humid climate, and to obtain feedback from the drivers here.
He believes the new type of tyre has to be significantly superior to traditional tyres in areas such as performance, safety and price for consumers to make the switch.
Other tyre companies are also racing to develop airless tyre technology. They include Bridgestone from Japan, Hankook from South Korea and American brand Goodyear, which have either made earlier announcements or presented prototypes.