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Michelin’s Eco-Vision: Fewer Tires, More Mileage – The Drive Towards Sustainable Rubber on the Road

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Michelin, a major tire supplier for electric vehicles (EVs), equipping 70% of them in the U.S., has admitted that EV owners are purchasing more tires than necessary.

The issue presents several technological hurdles. Electric vehicles tend to go through tires faster because they're heavier, and their powerful motors consistently cause more wear on the tire tread.

Michelin envisions a scenario where its tires could come with a higher price tag, but also offer increased durability and significantly reduce their environmental footprint. It's a surprising direction for a business that is centered on products designed to be replaced after a certain period of use.

At a recent sustainability event in Sonoma, California, Alexis Garcin, who leads the company's North American division, emphasized that their aim goes beyond simply increasing tire sales. They are focused on improving the quality of the tires they offer in various aspects.

French postal vehicles are now equipped with Michelin's Uptis, a tire that operates without

Company leaders have informed Green Car Reports of their ongoing efforts to advance airless tire technology, which could be more suitable for self-driving taxis and autonomous vehicles. They also shared progress on revamping retread technology to focus on sustainability, potentially enabling the initial tire and four subsequent retreads to deliver as much as one million miles of use for large commercial vehicles.

Garcin clarified that Michelin continues to pour resources into forward-thinking technologies because restricting creativity due to cost concerns could result in missed opportunities.

Michelin is shifting towards non-fossil materials

Currently, Michelin is focusing on incorporating eco-friendly and long-lasting materials into its tires to enhance longevity and energy efficiency, particularly for electric vehicles. By 2030, the company aims for its tires to be made of 40% renewable and recyclable content, with a goal to completely eliminate fossil-based materials by 2050.

Sonoma Raceway showcased a glimpse of what's to come with mainstream tire technology expected to hit the market in 2025.

Michelin's tire, which is 45% eco-friendly, is set for

Michelin's Primacy A/S demo tire boasts a composition that is at least 42% derived from eco-friendly materials, reaching 45% in the displayed model. This significantly exceeds the sustainable content of contemporary tires by over 100%. Michelin claims this tire matches or surpasses current market options in performance. It incorporates reused steel and carbon black sourced from discarded tires, along with silica obtained from ground rice husks. The tire also includes certain natural resins and oils, such as those extracted from orange peels, to enhance its efficiency.

Approximately 20% of today's car tires are made up of natural rubber, and Michelin is actively working on sourcing this material from renewable plants such as guayule, which is found in the Southwestern region of the United States.

Other manufacturers have presented tire designs with a greater emphasis on eco-friendliness, yet what sets the Primacy A/S demonstration tire apart is its readiness for manufacturing.

Ford Explorer now equipped with Michelin Primacy tires designed for all-season use, featuring a composition that is 42% comprised of eco

Ford Explorer now equipped with Michelin Primacy tires designed for all-season use, featuring 42% eco-friendly materials.

Ford Explorer now equipped with Michelin Primacy tires designed for all seasons, featuring 42% eco-friendly materials.

Michelin presented its tire fitted on a fresh Ford Explorer model. At the Sonoma Raceway, in terms of noise, traction, and general efficacy, it appeared that these tires might easily swap with the standard Michelin Primacy all-season tires.

Michelin emphasized their commitment to sustainability in electric vehicles by displaying their eco-friendly tire alongside various electric models, such as the Porsche Taycan and Genesis GV60, which come equipped with Michelin tires straight from the factory.

Michelin is adopting a tailored strategy to enhance electric vehicle range

When it comes to the effectiveness and longevity of tires, they are primarily defined by three fundamental elements: the tire's construction and basic pattern, the tread pattern, and the material used. In the case of electric vehicles, increased rolling resistance can lead to a higher energy loss not just while speeding up and maintaining speed, but also when using regenerative braking. This can significantly impact the overall efficiency of electric vehicles.

Cyrille Roget, who oversees scientific and technical communications at the firm, highlighted in a discussion with Green Car Reports that the key is to determine the usage requirements and then tailor the design for minimal rolling resistance. This involves extensive use of simulation tools to find the right fit for the vehicle, followed by several rounds of conclusive testing with the car.

In the age of electric vehicles, which feature distinct weight distribution and power output, as well as increased heft, this could necessitate the development of specialized tires.

Genesis GV60 equipped with Michelin tires.

Porsche Taycan outfitted with Michelin rubber

Tire technology must evolve for electric and hybrid vehicles

Garcin, in response to Green Car Reports' inquiry on the unique tire requirements for hybrids, mentioned that there isn't a significant shift in market perspective or tire design. The main considerations remain the high torque and heavier weight of these vehicles, and the existing tire technologies are simply adapted to meet the needs of both electric and hybrid models.

In relation to the mixture used in manufacturing, a standard tire is composed of over 200 different components, with carbon black playing a crucial role in enhancing its longevity and robustness while minimizing friction during rotation.

Michelin has established a group known as BlackCycle with the aim of cultivating a European-based network centered on the utilization of secondary raw materials, particularly carbon black, for the production of new tires. This initiative seeks to minimize the global transportation of tires.

Method of pyrolysis employed to recover reusable substances from Continental brand tires

The cycle recommences using carbon black

This initiated a review of the international distribution network for carbon black to determine if firms could enhance recovery through pyrolysis. This technique involves heating the materials in an oxygen-free environment to reclaim compounds. The outcome is the retrieval of carbon black along with three distinct oils, and a novel method has been developed to produce "new" carbon black—now referred to as sustainable carbon black—from the secondary oil.

"According to Roget, there are several sources of carbon black including the traditional virgin carbon black derived from petroleum. Additionally, carbon black can be reclaimed through pyrolysis, and there's also an eco-friendly variety produced from pyrolysis oil. Furthermore, the lighter oils can be processed into resins that are incorporated into tire manufacturing."

Roget highlighted the significance of this development, acknowledging that while the tire manufacturer understands that solely using recovered carbon black won't suffice to meet all demands, the introduction of sustainable carbon black will eliminate the reliance on petroleum-based inputs for tire production.

According to Roget, producing carbon black through pyrolysis is significantly energy-efficient in a manufacturing context compared to the production of the initial product, and it also has the possibility to be more cost-effective. In the process of pyrolysis, gas is collected which can then be utilized to assist in warming up the pyrolysis chamber.

Michelin aims to attract additional investors to support the establishment of an industrial foundation for pyrolysis. Collaborating with Bridgestone, they believe that by jointly defining their requirements for recycled carbon black, they can significantly influence the industry's standards, as per Roget's assertion.

ElectricDrive GT tires from Goodyear designed for the Tesla Model 3

Goodyear has expressed its commitment to utilizing recycled carbon black, incorporating Monolith's pyrolysis-derived carbon black into a substitute tire designed for the Tesla Model 3.

Garcin characterized the partnership with Bridgestone as a component of a more extensive strategy, emphasizing the necessity to shift completely to sustainable and repurposed substances for every tire they produce.

Eco-friendly tire management calls for enhanced recycling methods beyond simply repurposing old tires. Globally, tire recycling rates stand at about 90%, yet there are regions in Africa that have yet to embrace this practice. Companies like Michelin and Bridgestone are spearheading trial programs aimed at establishing an effective recycling framework in these areas.

"Securing a substance that matches the quality of the original fossil material you aim to substitute is the initial hurdle," Roget stated.

Take for example, the material PET, short for polyethylene terephthalate, which is employed to strengthen tires for passenger vehicles. This PET can actually be sourced from recycled plastic bottles instead of relying on petroleum-based resources. The obstacle faced by major consumers such as tire manufacturer Michelin is the logistics of gathering a steady supply of these plastic bottles for future use.

The process of reclaiming and recycling materials also needs to be financially viable. According to Roget, synthetic rubber, also known as butadiene rubber, is currently quite affordable as it is frequently produced as a byproduct of making gasoline. However, even though the company is exploring methods to manufacture it using agricultural leftovers, the expense involved is proving to be an obstacle.

Based on data provided by the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, roughly one-fourth of the components in car and small truck tires are composed of synthetic polymers.

Components of Tires – Association of American Tire Producers

The overlooked issue is that as tires deteriorate, they release their tread substance, frequently as particle matter, a portion of which can become suspended in the air.

Research conducted by Imperial College London in 2023 indicates that more than half of the worldwide particulate emissions from vehicles in 2021 originated from tire and brake wear, rather than exhaust fumes, accounting for 52%. Additionally, it's estimated that every year, tire wear alone contributes to 6.6 million tons of particulate pollution globally. Emissions Analytics, a company based in the United Kingdom, has been highlighting since 2020 that the increased weight of electric vehicles can lead to significantly higher tire particulate emissions.

The entry of tire debris into the ecosystem as detailed in a 2023 study by Imperial College London.

Roget from Michelin acknowledges the problem and mentions that a detailed report is soon to be released. He points out that Michelin has made an 11% improvement in this area over the past decade. He believes that maintaining this advancement, along with the pursuit of superior materials, will lead to enhanced performance with a reduction in weight, both in terms of the original product and the wear on the tread over time.

A study conducted in 2022 by the ADAC, which is the biggest car club in Europe, revealed that tires from Michelin had the least amount of tread compound wear for the distance covered. This measurement is closely related to the amount of particulate matter released into the surroundings.

Evaluation of tire degradation by ADAC based on mass loss over distance traveled.

These instances highlight the fact that sustainability is not without its limits; it operates in a cyclical manner, requiring careful consideration at every stage. Taking tires as a case in point, it's crucial to examine their origin, their final destination, the manner in which they deteriorate, the energy invested in their production, and the energy efficiency they offer during their usage.

As our modes of transport evolve to fit into a sustainable cycle, it stands to reason that the wheels propelling us forward should also advance, potentially reducing the number of tires we utilize.

Michelin covered the costs of food and transportation associated with showcasing its tire innovations and providing opportunities to interact with company leaders.

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Honda has made a commitment to increase its production of all-wheel-drive hybrid vehicles. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi has hinted at introducing new electric and hybrid models in the American market. Additionally, we explore the reasons why electric vehicle tires may not need to be replaced as frequently in the coming years. Stay tuned to Green Car Reports for more on these developments. Honda has set a target to produce two million electric vehicles per year by 2030. During a recent presentation about their ambitions for EVs in the latter half of the 2020s, they also shared news about an upcoming series of Honda all-wheel-drive hybrids. On Thursday, Mitsubishi gave us a glimpse into what we might expect from their future offerings in the U.S.

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