Currently we experience the most rapid change in the rubber and tire industries long history. It is a change driven by the unquestionable need of limiting the use of fossil resources and limiting emissions of CO2 along the value chain for the sake of the planet and future generations. Regulations tightening on all ends in order to achieve more or less ambitious targets and consumers actively make decisions based on values connected to sustainability. It is a Mega-trend in combination with survival instincts, perhaps the strongest driver of human behavior of all. How does that impact the day to day activities and strategic choices in our value chain, and how does traditional and new technologies adapt?
Well, this is not a scientific report or research-based piece of reading, but rather a few thoughts and observations from one part of the value chain.
I believe that the only way forward to reach a more sustainable value chain in the rubber and tire business is for a range of solutions to co-exist, especially in recycling. There will be both need and space for alternative solutions for recovery of the valuable resources of the End of Life Tires (ELT) and they might serve different purposes depending on region, infrastructure and quality. There are a few solutions such as landfilling and incineration still existing vastly in quite many regions in the world where I hope we will be able to replace with more sustainable and upgrading solutions as soon as possible. Only last night I got a call from a neighbor to a tire landfill in the US complaining about the inconvenience with the masses of mosquitos. Those problems would need to be handled in many areas to minimize the problems caused by tire dumps being a habitat for all kinds of insects, rodents, fungi and other bearers of diseases. Even in Europe and the US different kinds of incineration still stands for about 50% of the recycling of ELT, either as pre-processed Tire Derived Fuel (TDF) or by complete tires. I would not argue with the fact that many of those facilities are up to date and in some cases even top-notch incineration units but it is still destructive way to dispose upgradable and valuable materials.
As all readers of this blog knows better than me the incomparable benefits of natural rubber (NR) in tires and many rubber applications will maintain a high need for NR for a long time. Even if there are quite mature examples of alternative plants and methods making ground the rubber tree is and will be one of nature’s true wonders. As the tire industry is developing alternative biological and sustainable solutions in parallel with more sustainable rubber plantation again, I think that the co-existence will be both necessary and beneficial. My vision would be that less sustainable and less fair sources will be replaced by alternatives where both producers and buyers are committed to improve the value chain jointly and with a wider perspective. That is also why I am convinced that the ones investing in sustainable production and logistics will be the winners’ long term.
From my perspective the use of sustainable bio derived content compared to fossil in rubber and tire applications will be both less complicated and more profitable to upgrade and reuse in the value chain. Our technology has proven to recover oil from ELT that, depending on type of tire feedstock, contains from more than 40% up to close to 80% bio derived content. This makes the oil growingly interesting to the leading refineries around the world to utilize as mixing feedstock to blend with fossil oils to limit the total CO2 impact. Regulations are put in place in many markets to drive change in the refining industry to innovate and implement renewable resources at a faster pace and to larger extent. We expect the latest achievement together with the Swedish Research Institutes (RISE) and representatives from the industry to lead the way to a situation where the rubber tree magic is utilized in the most valuable and sustainable way possible during the material life cycle.
Yet another example of innovation leading to improved upcycling and added value related to ELT is the recovery of Carbon Black materials from all types of tires. In the same patented process as for the oil above, Scandinavian Enviro Systems are, since more than 3 years harvesting recovered Carbon Black and successfully re-introducing the material into the rubber and tire industry. our material has been replacing virgin Carbon Black to 100% in more than 60 million rubber components to Volvo Cars so far and is already approved and used by solid tire producers such as Elastomeric (Hexpol Group).
For the mining tire industry, closely related to the natural rubber industry, the producer responsibility regulations are increasingly pressing to take significant action concerning sustainable recycling. In many cases the first and most sustainable step is retreading or refurbishment of different kinds. However, after a while the tires are too worn out to be fixed and becomes in fact a stream of ELT from the mines. To recycle those large and heavy tires does not come easy and the final disposal solution is more often than not landfilling of some kind and in some less common examples used for energy recovery as TDF in incineration plants. Both governments and major mining tire producers are currently actively exploring the next generation of sustainable and value adding technologies. We have successfully proven to efficiently recover the Carbon Black, Oil and Steel from mining tires and re-introduce the resources to the value chain again.
Our industrial pyrolysis technology is one alternative rapidly gaining ground and acceptance by leading companies within the rubber and tire industry and by governments and recyclers. We are proud to recover those fine resources, minimize the exploitation of fossil oil, increase the lifetime and value of the rubber tree´s contribution and significantly limit the CO2 emissions related to the tire lifecycle.
Author of the Blog:
Thomas Sorensson, CEO, Scandinavian Enviro Systems AB (Publ)