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PPG Industries silicas still driving tire performance after 80 years

Jun 13, 2023

PITTSBURGH—After 80 years in the silica game, nothing really surprises PPG Industries anymore.

Not new mobility. Not sustainability pushes. And certainly not the greater demands and expectations that both are putting on tires and their performances.

Because today's tire industry challenges are challenges that the Pittsburgh-based high-performance materials supplier has been tackling for decades. PPG was, after all, one of the first to bring precipitated silica products to the market.

And that depth of knowledge means something, PPG Research Manager Nathan Silvernail said. Especially when it's matched with continued innovation.

"In R&D, PPG scientists and engineers have extensive institutional knowledge about precipitated silica and its performance and functional properties," Silvernail told Rubber News. "They also have access to PPG's comprehensive technical capabilities. This helps to inform our research and technological innovation that's required to meet growing fuel efficiency, safety and durability demands."

As it turns out, those are exactly the kind of properties that tire makers need as EVs, customers and consumers demand more from tires.

It's also where the company's Agilon high-performance silicas come in.

Agilon is one of those products designed to empower tire makers as they look to stretch the capabilities of their products across that well-known magic triangle.

"Our PPG Agilon high-performance silica products are engineered to extend the tire industry's 'magic triangle' by lowering rolling resistance for improved vehicle range, increasing traction for improved safety and handling, and durable tread compounds that extend the useful life of tires," Silvernail said. "In fact, when substituted for traditional silica-silane in tire compounds, Agilon performance silica can improve vehicle range, tire traction and treadwear by as much as 5 to 10 percent."

Improvements like that are important, he added, especially as the adoption rates for electric vehicles continues to climb.

And rapidly.

J.D. Power, for one, estimates that by 2026, that 30 percent of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. will be electrified models.

Ultimately, Agilon also has a place in both winter and all-season tire applications thanks to its ability to improve traction, safety and handling in wet, snowy or icy conditions and improve overall wear resistance when compared to traditional in-situ silica plus silane mixing.

"PPG Agilon silica significantly improves the interaction between silica and the rubber matrix greatly reducing hysteresis," Silvernail said. "Because of this, Agilon considerably reduces tire rolling resistance in any tire where it's used."

Agilon is available in a variety of types to help address unique needs of different tire types. And because it can be used in natural rubber compounds, it also finds a place as a solution for rolling resistance in light truck tires.

When it comes to products that give tires durability, strength and traction, Agilon doesn't stand alone. There's also Hi-Sil.

According to Silvernail, PPG's Hi-Sil-branded silicas find application in a range of industries, but have a place as reinforcing fillers for tires. Here, they can help reduce chipping and improve tear strength. But they can help with rolling resistance and wet traction.

"As some of the first silica products to be combined with silane coupling agents to alter the properties of tire-tread compounds, Hi-Sil products continue to provide improved rolling resistance and wet traction," Silvernail said.

"PPG Hi-Sil products encompass silicas with a broad range of properties providing solutions for the different tire industry needs. We have silicas optimized for winter, all-season and high-performance tires. Hi-Sil silicas also address the different regional needs with products targeting the European and American markets."

When it comes to silica products, PPG customers are asking for far more than performance.

They're demanding sustainability, too.

"The world today is complex. Alongside our customers and suppliers, we navigate together to find solutions to the world's challenges," Silvernail said. "This is particularly relevant in terms of innovation and sustainability."

So PPG, Silvernail said, is rolling out the kinds of products that allow tires to last longer and provide optimum range and fuel efficiency. But those same silica products are designed to help tire makers keep their operations a little greener, too.

"Adding benefits beyond the magic triangle, Agilon performance silica are formulated by precipitating silica and silane together," Silvernail said. "This means tire manufacturers do not have to perform this non-value-added processing step. This reduces complexity, increases manufacturing efficiency, saves energy and virtually eliminates rubber-mixing-related volatile organic compounds."

According to Silvernail, PPG research indicates that Agilon silica could go further still.

Simply, it allows tire makers to do more with less.

"At PPG, we focus on making tires more fuel-efficient and making tire plants more sustainable. To accomplish this, PPG produces Agilon performance silica by pre-reacting silica, silane and proprietary additives at our own facilities," Silvernail said. "Removing this step from the customer's manufacturing process eliminates more than 99 percent of the associated alcohol-related VOC emissions, cuts mix times and accelerates throughput, enabling manufacturers to produce more tires with less energy."

Agilon, he noted, could allow tire makers to cut in half the amount of mixer energy used. Further, it could improve throughput by as much as 33 percent when compared to the use of conventional silica because it eliminates one mixing pass.

Yes, PPG is focused on ensuring the most sustainable tire products are made more sustainably. But it's own products matter, too.

So the company is focused on ensuring its own materials are made as sustainably and efficiently as possible. And it's doing so through digitalization, high-efficiency power-generation facilities and environmental impact reduction efforts.

"Starting with raw materials to upstream impacts, at PPG we are creating carbon-reducing solutions that will positively impact the value chain, from our direct customers to the brand owners," Silvernail said. "This means investing in technology and processes that enable more transparency in our data; carbon footprint reduction in our operations and supporting customers' sustainability progress."

That is something that PPG is committed to continuing. And it intends to further its sustainability strides by working closely with customers. Through open dialogue and data transparency, PPG not only strengthens its own sustainability efforts, it allows its clients to more concisely green their supply chains.

But you don't have to take PPG's word on that.

The company has earned an EcoVadis Gold Rating, placing it, Silvernail said, in the top 8 percent of companies graded with the highly respected third-party evaluation.

That's just proof, he said, of how seriously PPG takes its sustainability strides.

"It is essential that we collaborate across the entire value chain to contribute to the industry's overall sustainability efforts," Silvernail said. "This is achieved only through doubling down on strategically analyzing and sharing data that enables decisions and strategies that move us toward more sustainable plant operations, products and processes."

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