Goodyear’s eco-tire concept revealed at the Geneva auto show—packed with live green moss—seemed like show-stand decor or a marketing stunt at first glance. But the tire is a serious proposition for the future, eyeing sustainability and looking to a time when autonomous vehicles and all of their onboard components could use every bit of energy recovered or generated.
Plants, as the concept emphasizes, can generate electricity. As part of photosynthesis, they excrete excess sugars into the environment around them (usually the soil), and that generates electrons that can be captured. Meanwhile, the moss inhales carbon dioxide and releases oxygen via photosynthesis—in effect cleaning the air. Goodyear said that, in a metropolitan area with 2.5 million vehicles, if all vehicles used this tire it would absorb 4000 tons of CO2 per year and generate 3000 tons of oxygen.
The tire-and-wheel module consists of three core components. At the core is a shock-absorbing hub made of what Goodyear calls DuraWeb, borrowed from the airless tires Goodyear already makes for commercial lawn mowers. The “tire” mounted on that hub is made of curved, fanlike layers that are 3D printed using rubber powder from recycled tires. That tire structure actually gathers moisture from the road surface as it rolls, funneling it through the hub and out into the assembly that contains the moss. The hubcap is translucent and recessed at the center to allow as much sunlight as possible to shine through.
In a Goodyear demo, three houseplants together produced 1.6 volts and 14 milliamps. Goodyear wouldn’t say exactly what the four wheels will produce together, but the company said it will be enough to power both an artificial-intelligence processor in charge of watering the moss and a visible-light communications system (LiFi), which would allow high-speed data transmission in the line of sight—for vehicle-to-vehicle communications in an era of self-driving cars, for instance. A light strip encircling the sidewall will also serve as a warning beacon to pedestrians and other road users and can change color accordingly.
The concept was created at Goodyear’s design facility in Luxembourg. Sebastien Fontaine, a designer who worked on the concept, told C/D that the project is essentially a thought exercise that, in some form, might be brought to market a decade or more from now. There are plenty of questions about manufacturing—and how such a system would deal with potholes, for instance, or with potentially moss-killing contaminants such as road salt—this concept underscores that it might soon be antediluvian to think about tires only with respect to metrics like traction, grip, ride, handling, and wear. The rubber of the future might take on an entirely new role.