From 18 Wheels to Ten? ICT Awarded $1.2 Million to Study Wide-Base Tires

Researchers at the Illinois Center for Transportation (ICT) have been selected to lead a $1.2 million Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) project to model and validate the use and effects of wide-base tires as an alternative to the conventional dual-tire system on semi-truck trailers. Wide-base tires have the potential to provide numerous benefits to the environment and the trucking industry.

This project, “The Impact of Wide-Base Tires on Pavements – A National Study,” will build on the ICT’s and its team members’ existing cutting-edge knowledge and international leadership on this subject to quantify the impact of vehicle-tire interaction on pavement damage. The team will use advanced theoretical modeling that will be validated by testing sensored full-scale pavements to determine the relationship between the tire characteristics, including width, aspect ratio, loading, tire inflation pressure, actual tread width, and pavement damage. The team will develop a tool and methodology that allows engineers and agencies to assess the impact of wide-base tires on the pavement network and analyze the economic, safety, and environmental effects of using wide-base tires relative to the impact on pavement performance.

As part of previous research, the ICT team showed the environmental advantages of wide-base tire implementation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Smartway Transport Project promotes the use of wide-base tires as a way to improve fuel economy by reducing weight, aerodynamic drag, and rolling resistance. Other potential benefits they cite include reduced drive-by noise and improved stability.

ICT’s previous work on wide-base tires has shown that they actually have similar total pavement impact on the interstate highway pavements as the dual-tire system; although the pattern of damage could be different. Theoretically, the team has shown that for thick pavements, the pavement expected service life could be improved when wide-base tires, rather than dual-tire assembly, are used. Additionally, recent advances in tire technology have led to a revised design for wide-base tires that have a better load distribution than dual-tire assembly.

Principal Investigator Imad Al-Qadi, ICT Director and UIUC Founder Professor of Engineering, says, “In addition to modeling tires, pavements, and tire-pavement interaction, and pavement instrumentation to measure pavement response to various types of tires, this project will investigate the sustainability and environmental effect of using the wide-base tire. Within a decade of the completion of this project, I predict the use of dual-tires on trucks will be something from the past. My students and I have been working on this topic for many years and we are very pleased to win this project that will move this technology forward. This project is a truly international effort and we are very pleased to work with top researchers in this field at the Delft University of Netherlands, UC Davis, CSIR of South Africa, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) as partners. In addition, to FHWA, this project is currently supported by seven states as well as the industry.”

Along with the administration of the project, full-scale testing will be conducted at UIUC’s Advanced Transportation Engineering and Research Lab (ATREL), UC Davis, and FDOT. Tire stress measurements will be conducted in South Africa. Tire, pavement, and tire-pavement interaction modeling will be developed at UIUC and Delft, and life cycle assessment and impact on the environment will be performed at UC Davis and UIUC. The project is set to begin this summer and has a three-year timeline.