Pyrolysis technology enables “closed-loop” solutions in the pursuit of a circular economy

Krzysztof Wróblewski investigates how this thermochemical technique for recovering raw materials from waste can be used to recycle end-of-life tires

The automotive industry needs a transformative change in its technological solutions. It has made progress in producing zero-emission electric vehicles by reducing the user’s carbon footprint, but the manufacturing process still has a significant impact on the environment. From the consumption of electricity in the factory to the different materials used in the production of the car, the car industry has startling statistics.

According to The Guardian, a compact car will produce around 6 tonnes of CO2e during its production cycle. And a university publication concludes that the largest share of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from energy consumption (73.2%), with the industrial sector a major contributor.

Technology is the answer. Pyrolysis can help close the loop to make the automotive sector circular by reducing its environmental impact during car production.

The benefits of joining the circular economy

Using circular methods would allow the automotive industry to reduce carbon emissions over a car’s life cycle by up to 75% and resource use by up to 80% per passenger-km by 2030 for an electric car, according to a World Economic Forum report by Accenture . Closing the loop will also reduce the environmental footprint of the industry by reducing pollution and waste generation and protecting biodiversity. The automotive supply chain will need to change both upstream and downstream to achieve these goals.

Pyrolysis is a thermochemical technique for recovering raw materials from waste and can be used to safely recycle end-of-life tires

Tires, which are a source of recurring waste, can be crucial for the circularity of the industry. Tires pollute the environment throughout their life cycle, from the non-renewable fossil fuels used in production to the difficulty of recycling waste tires using conventional methods. Tire components such as synthetic rubber and raw carbon black are derived from petroleum. Carbon black makes up over 20% of a tire’s mass; the synthetic rubber content can be up to 25% depending on the type, as truck tires have less.

However, the automotive industry can use existing technologies from other sectors, such as pyrolysis, to avoid starting from scratch in the search for circularity. Pyrolysis is a thermochemical technique for recovering raw materials from waste and can be used to safely recycle end-of-life tires (ELT). The raw materials recovered during the pyrolysis process can be used to make new tires, thus closing the tire production cycle.

Recovery of materials by pyrolysis

Several types of pyrolysis are now available for ELTs. Essentially, they all heat the ELT to high temperatures, in an oxygen-free atmosphere, to break the tires down to their raw materials. Pyrolytic products of economic interest are recovered carbon black, steel, oil and gas.

Reclaimed carbon blacks are semi-reinforcing and can partially replace grades such as N660. The carbon footprint of recovered carbon black is several times lower than that of pure carbon black. Tire-derived oil (TDO) is a suitable feedstock alternative to fossil fuels for the production of reinforced primary carbon blacks. It can also be used as a chemical raw material. Reclaimed steel can also be reused in tire production. Recovered gas can power industrial plants, making energy processes circular and limiting their carbon footprints.

The raw materials recovered during the pyrolysis process can be used to manufacture new tires

Although there are many methods for recycling ELT, pyrolysis is the best option for implementing closed-loop economics in tire production. In addition, pyrolysis is the most environmentally friendly method of tire recycling. It can treat 100% of waste tires, recover 85% of materials and the technology produces negligible emissions and waste.

Pyrolysis in Europe today

There are currently only a few pyrolysis plants operating in Europe. There are various technologies in various stages of development and the quality of the products is stabilizing.

There is currently insufficient supply of pyrolytically recycled products to meet demand as major tire manufacturers attempt to replace fossil-based components with sustainable alternatives and reduce emissions by 2050. Therefore, the pyrolysis industry is expected to growing rapidly in the following years. Pyrolysis can also assist the automotive industry’s need to meet its manufacturer responsibilities to address the larger problem of tire waste.

Pyrolysis is a circular solution and the automotive industry needs similar sustainable capabilities throughout the vehicle manufacturing process to join the circular economy.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Automotive World Ltd.

Krzysztof Wróblewski is the CEO of Contec

The Automotive World Comment column is open to decision makers and influencers in the automotive industry. If you would like to contribute an article for comment, please contact [email protected]

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