For some, the solution for building smarter, more sustainable operations has been there all along. It was just a matter of capturing it.
That's true for U.S. tire makers, some of which are turning their attention skyward by using solar energy as one of the main renewable, reusable and sustainable energy sources for powering offices and — yes — even tire plants.
Bridgestone Americas Inc. and Nokian Tyres P.L.C. are among companies making moves to harness the sun to power tire production.
Pirelli Tire North America Inc. went that route eight years ago, albeit on a smaller scale. Pirelli erected solar panels on a 3-acre site adjacent to its Rome, Ga., factory that were expecteed to generate about 750,000 Kw of power annually, enough to supply about 65 households.
The transition to solar energy was a natural one for Bridgestone in particular. The company added eight acres of solar panels on grounds at its 23-year-old plant in Aiken, S.C., earlier this year; those panels, the company said, generate enough electricity to power 200 homes per year.
They also allow the tire maker to take a leap toward its biggest sustainability goals: reducing its total CO2 emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
"As a renewable CO2-free power source, solar power has a significantly smaller impact on the environment compared to other power-generation methods," Andrew Thompson, director of sustainability policy for Bridgestone Americas, said in an email interview. "The sun provides a limitless source of energy and, more importantly, is renewable."
The renewable energy generated by the solar panels has a significant impact overall, Mr. Thompson said, particularly when you consider the size of a facility as large as the Aiken plant. Solar panels can cut as much as 1,400 metric tons of CO2 emissions from the facility, which is designed to make over 37,000 passenger car and light truck tires per day.
"Our Aiken passenger tire plant is one of our largest manufacturing operations in the U.S., and we recognized the impact we could have by making this transition," Mr. Thompson said.
"By making this initial investment in solar energy at our Aiken passenger tire plant we are demonstrating our long-term commitment to more sustainable manufacturing operations and taking an important first step to ensure our tires are made more sustainably."
First in solar
Bridgestone may be among the latest tire makers to harness the power of the sun, but Nokian Tyres P.L.C. claims to be the first to use the sun's energy to power a U.S. tire factory. The Nokia, Finland-based company has turned to solar panels for its U.S. manufacturing and administrative buildings in Dayton, Tenn.
The panels at the Dayton plant have a 3-megawatt capacity, or capable of generating enough energy to power about 500 homes. The amount of energy generated powers 15% to 20% of the facility's production process, according to Nokian.
"Essentially, the energy replacement is enough that we were able to earn that LEED v4 Silver, and we were the first in the tire industry to have a production building that achieved that standard," a Nokian spokesman said.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council to facilities that achieve some of the highest levels of efficiency and sustainability. According to the USGBC website, "LEED v4 is designed to up the ante with a more flexible, performance-based approach that calls for measurable results throughout a building's lifecycle."
To achieve the LEED v4 certification, facilities must hit benchmarks within a variety of categories including integrative thinking, energy, water, waste, materials and location.