In the future, big smokey burnouts won't merely burn rubber if tires from Continental are involved. The global manufacturer is working on a plan to make tires completely out of sustainable, recycled materials by 2050, but simply grinding up old tires to make new ones won't be enough. That's where plastic bottles, dandelions, and rice husks come in. Wait, what?
Natural rubber is sourced from specific trees in the form of latex, and that will continue to be a key ingredient for producing tires in the future. However, it will be supplemented by other plant-based resources such as dandelions, which are also a source of rubber. Silica is also used in tire manufacturing and plays a role in various aspects of performance, from grip to rolling resistance. Often sourced from quartz sand, plant-based oils can be a silica supplement. Rice husks left over from rice production are a good source of silica, with Continental saying the husks are a more energy-efficient solution for manufacturing.
As for plastic bottles, Continental can use them to create a polyester yarn used for the tire casing. Depending on the bottle size, between 9 and 15 bottles could be recycled for one tire. As with the Rice husks, Continental says using the bottles is a more energy-efficient alternative for capturing polyester needed for manufacturing. This process is already being used at the company for some tire casings. And then there's the process of recycling old tires, separating rubber, steel, and cords in what Continental says is a "highly sophisticated process."
In theory, the result of all these efforts will be tires made from 100-percent recycled or sustainably sourced materials. According to Continental, such materials already account for between 15 and 20 percent of modern tires.
"Continental is on the road toward becoming the most progressive manufacturer in the tire industry in terms of sustainability," said Continental's Head of Sustainability Claus Petschick. "We aim to use 100 percent sustainable materials in our tire products by 2050 at the latest. Our innovative power enables us to break new and even more sustainable ground. This encompasses everything from the origin and sourcing of our materials through to the reuse and recycling of our tires."