Forget tire swings and ottomans. Recycled tires will be born again as new tires.
Michelin is challenging the auto industry to do something revolutionary: Completely recycle rubber tires.
The company threw down the challenge, not just to the auto industry but to other tire makers too, at last week’s annual Movin’ On conference in Montreal.
There the French tire company– increasingly a mobility company–announced that by 2048 100% of tires will be recycled, and from that, 80% of the materials Michelin uses to produce tires will come from recycling. The other 20% will come from petroleum and other materials necessary in tire making, though expect that to come from sustainable or recyclable materials in the future, too.
All this is brilliant: Michelin can build the supply chain rather than simply be a participant. And, it gives the company a greater ability to create sustainable resources for its products and control costs.
Wood in Your Tires? The Future of Tires Isn’t Just Rubber
Michelin sees recycled rubber as only one component of tires in the future. They are developing materials for tires from trees, wood and other natural, sustainable resources, and would like to replace all fossil fuels in tire production, too.
To do this, Michelin is striking partnerships with companies like Axens and IFP Energies Nouvelles, which specialize in bio material research and development. Michelin’s Vision Concept tire envisions using all natural resources to build compounds for tires that can be fully recycled, that will cost less and at the end of the tire’s life will break down naturally. The 2048 Initiative helps them to roadmap the Vision Concept goal.
Can Tires Really Be Recycled? It’s Not a Great Track Record… So Far
Up until a few years ago the recycling of tires was an afterthought. Mostly, tire tread was shredded for playground mulch and after that, the tire went to the landfill or was burned. Today about 70% of used tires are collected and 50% of tires are recycled, though only 30% of materials used to make tires comes from recycling.
Most of the materials reclaimed from tires go to make mulch and other products like asphalt, shoe soles and floor mats. Tires not deconstructed in recycling are most likely sent to land fills, burned (often as fuel for industrial plants) or repurposed for things like tire swings.
Michelin’s ambitious goal would keep 33 million barrels of oil out of tire production, said Cyrille Roget, Michelin’s director of technical and innovation communications.
But even more oil would be saved with the new process: The recycling eco system will collect and recycle tires where they are disposed, then produce materials for new tires from the recycled tires. This will reduce the need to ship tires and materials, saving even more fossil fuel.
Michelin Realizes They Can’t Do This Alone, So They’re Enlisting the Help of Partners
This challenge represents a huge opportunity, not just for Michelin to set such a bold goal, but to also spur the tire recycling industry. The company is enlisting the help of partners across the globe. One such company is Lehigh Technologies, which Michelin partnered with and then bought last year.
Lehigh produces rubber crumbs by shredding tires and freeze-drying then crumbling the rubber. This lets them sort rubber by type so it can be reused. The reuse of recycled material for tread is ultimately the goal: to “recharge” a tire’s tread at a tire shop with a 3D printer, rather than shipping, stocking and selling new tires to replace old tires.
All this adds up to Michelin’s Vision Concept: to produce the only set of tires your car ever needs.
Disclosure: I was Michelin’s guest at the Movin’ On Conference; travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own.