Environmental issues are becoming increasingly important within the tyre industry. The majority of manufacturers are now producing low rolling resistance tyres with the aim of reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Now a leading report suggests that the ecological impact could be further reduced through the use of recycled rubber in the tyre manufacturing process.
Recycled rubber has been used for some time, but its importance has been marginal. It seems that this might be about to change. Environmental and economic factors are making the use of recycled rubber an increasingly attractive proposition. In May business analyst Tamara Bekefi and Marc Epstein, of Rice University, published a paper entitled”The Value of Green Tyres to Company Profitability”. Their report suggests that the supply of rubber will not meet the needs of the tyre industry in coming years. They also point out that while rubber prices appear to have levelled off, after recent price rises of 40 percent, the upward trend may continue in the future. Demand for rubber will grow in the next few years as more and more cars are put on the road. Quite simply supply cannot match demand in the future.
Using ultra-fine recycled rubber powder saves both natural rubber and oil-based synthetic rubber. The addition of 10 percent recycled rubber to a new tyre would save about one gallon of oil per tyre. This would amount to a saving of about half a billion gallons of oil per year.
The utilisation of recycled rubber in tyre production also has benefits for low rolling resistance tyres. According to a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology, recycled rubber reduces some rolling resistance elements by as much as 15 percent, and delivers a 19 percent improvement in air retention. Both of these factors serve to improve fuel consumption.
It appears that the only reason that recycled rubber is not more widely used is that it has an image problem. The perception of the major tyre manufacturers is that motorists will be put off by the idea of driving on recycled tyres. However, as awareness of green issues increases it seems likely that many motorists would welcome the greener option, particularly if it doesn’t hit them in the wallet.