Michelin unveils plans to ditch unsustainable tyre materials

Michelin has committed to switching to 100% renewable, recycled and bio-based materials for its tyres by 2050.

Pictured: Michelin's VISION concept tyre was designed to be airless and made using 100% sustainable materials

Pictured: Michelin's VISION concept tyre was designed to be airless and made using 100% sustainable materials

The French multinational mobility said that meeting the new commitment, announced today (23 February), will require a huge R&D effort in-house as well as new partnerships with innovators externally.

As of 2018, around 28% of the components used to manufacture Michelin Group’s tyres were classed as ‘sustainable’. The firm applies this definition to recycled, renewable and bio-based materials. Natural rubbed, which is the main ingredient in a tyre, falls within this definition. But the tyres also contain more than 200 other ingredients which, while helpful to tyre quality, have high environmental impacts. These include synthetic resins and silica.

Michelin will outline specific plans for phasing out and replacing non-sustainable materials in the near future. For now, it has said that the drive to change materials sourcing and design will be a top priotiy for its 6,000 R&D development centre staff.

It also said in a statement that it will continue to forge new “bold partnerships with innovative companies” and scale up existing collaborations. Michelin partners include Axens and IFP Energies Nouvelles, which are spearheading a facility making bio-sourced butadiene out of plant waste in France; Pyrowave, which supplies recycled styrene and Carbios, the creators of an enzymatic recycling process for PET. Carbios has also received support from PepsiCo and Lucozade Ribena Suntory.

Re-tyred

Of course, Michelin’s new commitment will reduce the environmental impact of tyres at the design and manufacturing stage.

But tyres can also generate negative environmental impacts during – and at the end of – their working life. In use, tyres shed microplastics that can pollute marine habitats. And, of the 12 million tonnes of used tyres discarded in Europe every year, only 42% were recycled pre-Covid-19.  

To this latter point, Michelin is planning to bring its first tyre recycling plant online in partnersjip with Swedish material technology firm Enviro. The plant will enable the most valuable reusable materials, like carbon black and steel, to be extracted from the tyres.

Here in the UK, tyre producers could soon face new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) requirements under the Resources and Waste Strategy. Consultations on the implementation of the Strategy were timetabled for 2020 but will take place this year, following delays.

Sarah George



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