AKRONSustainability is a buzzword that covers a lot of ground in the tire industry and is constantly evolving.
Take, for instance, at last fall's International Tire Exhibition & Conference Tire (ITEC) in Akron for tire manufacturers. It was a hot topic that involved recycling scrap tires and other ways to get more mileage out of tireseven after they've used up their first lifetime.
Lehigh Technologies Inc.'s Tom Rosenmayer, vice president of technology, examined how the industry is changing its perception of recycling and putting more emphasis on sustainability.
While he noted that tire makers have always focused their technological advancements on a tire's tread/treadlife, Mr. Rosenmayer said perhaps it's time to investigate more deeply all the components of a tire, with an eye toward recycling.
For us, our mission is to grow that significantly, to double or triple the use of recycled products derived from tires, Mr. Rosenmayer said. And also to see those materials being used in more than just the tread.
Recycling more of a tire could have significant environmental benefits, he said. Companies around the world are seeing benefits of this technology daily.
It eliminates waste, saves a lot of oil, saves a lot of energy, he said.
Smithers Rapra Groupan Akron-based testing and consulting services firm that focuses mainly on the tire, industrial, transportation, consumer and medical industriesdefines the greenest tire as one that is optimized for low rolling resistance and uses materials, especially elastomers, that are from a renewable or sustainable resource, Mr. Rosenmayer added.
Sustainability is a relatively fast-growing segment of the tire market, he said, and will continue to be for several years.
In order for a company to be successful, it needs to have evidence it provides at least equivalent rolling resistance in those compounds, Mr. Rosenmayer said. Otherwise, if rolling resistance is compromised with the use of its materials, then it is not really sustainable. The company would just be passing the energy use onto the consumer, which impedes the technology.
He said some of its customers in North America, Europe and Japan already are using new technology in their tires. Bridgestone Corp. makes Ecopia and Dueler Aleza Plus tire lines that have recycled content, according to information on the tire maker's website, Mr. Rosenmayer said.
Additionally, other tire makers, such as Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd., post corporate sustainability reports on their websites to show how they are using these technologies.
The key question then, he asked, is, Where do we want to go? Several things need to change along the whole supply chain, he continued, including organizing massive tire piles better by sorting the tires. For instance, Mr. Rosenmayer said, tires with high natural rubber content and tires with low rolling resistance compounds need to be separated.
Lehigh is working with the recycling industry to improve in these areas, he said, but its main focus is the development of functional materials. Currently, 3 to 10 percent of tire compounds are being used for sustainability, but Lehigh's goal is to grow that to 10 to 20 percent of the full tire.
Mr. Rosenmayer said the company has initiated its Green Tire Program. Lehigh has added to its technical team, in terms of tire compounding and SBR polymer expertise and has invested in a state-of-the-art mechanical analysis machine, which is capable of predicting rolling resistance.
The tire recycling industry has changed dramatically in the past 40 years, according to Denise Kennedy, president of DK Enterprises in Sacramento, Calif.
Its website describes the company as being created to provide environmental and economically sound sustainable solutions to people in the private and public sector. It notes that innovation, creativity, knowledge and sound realistic business practices are all part of the solution to save the environment, and sustainable solutions is the cornerstone of DK's business philosophy.
Ms. Kennedy pointed out how much the industry has changed since 1974, citing a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pamphlet from that year that said the number of passenger tires retreaded was 46.5 million. Today that total is significantly less, perhaps 500,000, she said.
Disposal rates were about 5 to 20 cents in 1974, she said, and now they are anywhere from 50 cents to $1.75, depending on location.
Outlining tire usage in California in 2013, Ms. Kennedy said 29 percent were exported (including used tires); 20 percent were used for tire-derived fuel; 13 percent went to disposal; 19 percent were used as ground rubber; 16 percent were reused; 3 percent served as alternative cover; and 1 percent were used in civil engineering applications. In comparison to California's 19 percent ground rubber use, the U.S. average was 25 percent, according to 2011 figures from the Rubber Manufacturers Association, she added.
Ms. Kennedy also noted that crumb rubber production from recycled tires in California totaled 111 million pounds in 2013, with the material used for rubberized asphalt concrete and other paving (45 percent); turf and athletic field (25 percent); loose fill, bark and mulch (18 percent); and molded and extruded products (11 percent).
Through its Tires4Ward Program, Bridgestone Retail Operations L.L.C., which operates more than 2,200 retail stores throughout the U.S., has set itself a rather ambitious target of reducing to zero the number of used tires collected through its network that go to landfills.
The company said it generates approximately 10 million scrap tires per year from its retail locations, which include Firestone Complete Car Care and other outlets.
Debra Hamlin, senior project managerenvironmental, detailed the program during a recycling workshop at ITEC in Akron.
The Tires4Ward Program is Bridgestone's commitment to building a waste-free tire industry, she said. Bridgestone's long-term vision is for all tires to serve beneficial uses after they are taken off their vehicles.
The key to accomplishing this is through the tire maker's retail organization, including that the stores not only are committed to the recycling effort, Ms. Hamlin said, but also support various community clean-up events. This is Bridgestone's commitment to the environment, to be in harmony with nature, to value natural resources and to reduce CO2 emissions.
The Tires4Ward program fits in with the company's in harmony with nature focus that values natural resources and the long-term goal of reducing CO2 emissions, she added.
The program began in April 2012, she said, and Bridgestone continues to partner with the River Rally Network in removing tires and thus far holding more than 380 community clean-up events from coast to coast that have recovered more than 90,000 tires..
Ms. Hamlin said Bridgestone has partnered with recyclers to develop beneficial markets for scrap tires while developing sustainable products and finding business models to address scrap tire usage. The company also is committed to educating consumers about where their tires are going once they're removed from their vehicles, she added.