by Derek Petersen
It’s fascinating how individuals and companies continue to find creative ways to recycle and reuse. Companies will attract negative attention for not doing their part to help protect the environment—potentially risking a loss in profits due to a shrinking consumer base because of their environmental decisions. One company, Michelin, has learned how to recycle and reuse large amounts of scrap tires in an intriguing way.
Since the 1990s, there have been many efforts towards learning the best and most efficient ways of how to recycle scrap tires. These efforts include: tire-derived fuel; civil engineering; and asphalt rubber. According to the EPA, asphalt rubber is the largest single market for ground rubber, consuming an estimated 220 million pounds, or approximately 12 million tires.
Michelin is leading a tire recycling project called TREC (Tire Recycling). Launched in 2014, TREC is backed by a €51-million budget extending over eight years. France’s Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (ADEME) will provide €13.3 million to Michelin and SDTech as part of the French government “Investing in the Future” program.
The project has two parts: TREC Regeneration and TREC Alcohol. Michelin has paired up with two French companies to handle this project: SDTech (Solides Divisés Technologies) and Protéus.
TREC Regeneration. SDTech and Protéus are a major part of the regeneration process, in which Michelin is using biotechnologies to create a micropowder that can be used as a raw material to produce new high-performance tires.
Micropowder is transformed from end-of-life tires to create a lower cost, and more sustainable material that replaces oil and rubber-based materials. The goal of this process is to reduce costs and cut waste.
According to Lehigh Technologies, products derived from end-of-life tire rubber have gone through extensive testing for health and safety in the United States and Europe by independent laboratories and government agencies. In all of these application tests, ground tire rubber (GTR) has been found to be safe.
TREC Alcohol. Michelin currently uses a mixture of natural rubber and a synthetic compound called butadiene—currently mainly produced as a by-product of ethylene production from steam crackers—in the production of tires. As demand has risen, Michelin foresees a shortage of butadiene by 2020. To combat this possible shortage, Michelin has launched a program called “Bio Butterfly” in hopes of producing butadiene the future.
TREC Alcohol will entail producing alcohol from raw materials (sugar, wood, straw, beets, agriculture waste) and end-of-life tires, which can then be catalytically converted to butadiene.
Michelin’s innovation strategy consistently focuses on making the best possible use of raw materials. The TREC project is a perfect example of ecodesign, and it will help us make new high-performance tires using quality raw materials from used tires, thanks to the shared expertise of the CEA, Protéus and SDTech.—Terry Gettys, director of R&D at Michelin