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Vittoria started adding graphene to its tyres and composite wheels in 2016. At the time, the company was able to demonstrate a variety of benefits, many of which stemmed from the remarkable strength and conductivity of the material. In the case of tyres, graphene improved durability and cut resistance, while it added strength and increased heat dissipation from its composite rims.
The first generation graphene was an inert additive that simply filled the gaps in rubber and resin (like sand in handful of dirt). The new generation of graphene, which Vittoria has used to overhaul its road tyre and wheel range, is no longer an unreactive ingredient.
Recent advances in the field of graphene development have yielded a variety of reactive species, such amines and esters, that are able to bond a matrix (like rubber) to chemically modify its properties. Matt Wikstrom is currently on location at Vittoria’s factory in Thailand. Below he provides a brief overview of what’s new and why it matters.
More scope to tune the performance of rubber
When Vittoria first started working with graphene in 2013, it was possible to alter the stress-strain characteristics of rubber to produce a more resilient compound. However, it also hardened the material if used at high concentrations. Sparing amounts were therefore required to improve some aspects of the final compound, like cut resistance, without detracting from others, such as grip.
Second-generation graphene takes this notion a step or two further by offering more scope for tuning rubber compounds. Aside from durability and cut resistance, Vittoria has used the new reactive graphene species to influence tyre deflection and grip amongst other traits, including performance at different temperatures.
For road tyres like the Corsa and Rubino, Vittoria has overhauled this range with an emphasis on high performance. Thus, buyers can look forward to a tyre with 40% less rolling resistance when compared to the first-generation of graphene-enhanced tyres. Grip is also improved (~30%), cut resistance is up by ~40%, and air retention by tubeless versions is ~30% better.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the new tyres is that all of these gains have been achieved in the context of a significant increase in mileage. According to Vittoria, this has doubled compared to its first-generation of graphene tyres.
As for price, that should remain unchanged.
Off-road tyres also get a boost
Vittoria has applied second-generation graphene to its range of off-road tyres, too. Air retention, cut-resistance, and especially grip, have all been improved, while rolling resistance remains unchanged.
Interestingly, the new tyres actually may offer a little less mileage, but it was a compromise the company was prepared to make in order to deliver those other gains. That may not always be the case, since Vittoria anticipates that further improvements in graphene will provide additional scope for tuning the performance of its tyres.
Put another way, second-generation graphene seems to be taking rubber chemistry into a new era, with the current round of gains just an indication of things to come.
Vittoria’s composite wheels also benefit from second-generation graphene
As mentioned above, Vittoria utilised first-generation graphene to enhance some of the characteristics of its composite rims, such as strength and heat dissipation. Second-generation graphene builds upon those gains in the same way as it does for tyres.
The result is a lighter and stronger matrix for the fibres, yielding a rim that offers 50% extra lateral stiffness, while being 15% lighter. At the same time, a 9-16% reduction in the temperatures generated by rim-braking was achieved.
More to come
Vittoria’s new range of tyres and wheels will start filtering into the market over the next month. After that, the company will start developing its next round of offerings, all of which are likely to include graphene.
Vittoria uses an enormous amount of graphene, incorporating two tonnes of the material into its products per year. Moreover, two years of research and development was devoted to understanding the capabilities of second-generation graphene. Clearly, the company has a lot faith in it.
Aside from ongoing refinements for performance-oriented products, Vittoria can see other applications for graphene, such as e-bike tyres.
This is one market that the company expects to grow considerably in the coming years, where there is a very different set of demands. Durability is perhaps the largest, yet Vittoria believes it can make use of second-generation graphene to create a tyre that is safe to use in demanding conditions, such as icy roads, for up to 30,000km.
And as the newest member of the Graphene Flagship a European association charged with promoting the commercialisation of graphene that has one billion Euro at its disposal, it appears that all sorts of prospects are about to be examined.