Continental Drives Basic Research on Tyre and Road Wear Particles

Continental, the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon in France have received a grant worth 43 million core hours of supercomputer time for their joint basic research project. The project, which aims to drive a fundamental understanding of tyre and road wear particles, has been in existence since 2014. Its goal is to learn more about the decomposition of rubber polymers to better understand the wear behavior of tyres. The associated simulations of the behavior of complex polymer structures are very time-consuming. For this reason, the project partners applied for the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) initiative. With the digital computing power granted, they now have the opportunity to perform polymer simulations in greater depth and on a broader scale.

“With the help of the supercomputer, we can for the first time perform comprehensive simulations on molecular level. The results of this basic research will contribute to a more complete understanding of the formation of tyre and road wear particles, and enable us to design the materials we use for tyre construction even more sustainably in the future,” says Dr. Andreas Topp, Head of Materials, Process Development and Industrialisation of the Tires business area at Continental.

The support granted provides access to the 9.4 petaflops Joliot-Curie supercomputer at the CEA’s Very Large Computing Center (TGCC) in Bruyères-le-Châtel, France. Performing 1,000 trillion calculations per second, it is one of the fastest supercomputers in the European Union. Supercomputers are used in science today, in addition to theory and experiment, to simulate particularly large and complex data sets so that they can be evaluated efficiently afterwards. Continental also uses supercomputers, for example, to develop future technologies in assisted, automated and autonomous driving.

Many issues about tyre and road wear particles are still unresolved. “In recent years, we have systematically invested in the research and development of new, sustainable production processes as well as materials to make future tyres even more energy-efficient and sustainable. Such processes are technologically very demanding and require a fundamental understanding of the tyre material at various levels,” says Dr. Peter Zmolek, Head of Materials Technology Research and Development of the Tires business area at Continental. He adds, “Our joint research project combines state-of-the-art calculation methods and innovative experimental approaches that give us a comprehensive understanding of the behavior of currently used materials. This technical knowledge is an important reference point, especially when evaluating new materials in terms of their ability to further reduce rolling resistance and tyre wear, as well as providing a fundamental understanding of how to recycle polymer chains from end-of-life tyres.”

Optimum grip in any traffic situation is a key function of tyres. Grip enables safety, for example when accelerating and braking. The transmission of power during this process results in combined wear particles from the material of the tyre tread and the road surface. Continental’s aim is to minimise the effect of tyre and road wear particles on the environment through improved tyre design. Continuous improvement of mileage and wear rate without compromising on safety is therefore an important criteria in Continental’s tyre development.

Continental systematically invests in research and development in the fields of new technologies, alternative materials and environmentally compatible production processes. Through these efforts, by 2050 at the latest, the premium tyre manufacturer is aiming to gradually transition to 100 percent sustainably produced materials in its tyre products. Continental is a member of various organisations, projects and initiatives that are researching the topic of tyre and road wear, as well as being in continuous dialog with international institutions, national agencies and other industry sectors. For example, the tyre manufacturer is a founding member of the Tire Industry Project (TIP), which drives research into the potential impacts of tyres on the environment throughout their life cycle.