SINGAPORE—Sustainability is key to the future development of the rubber industry, several speakers said at the recent International Rubber Study Group World Rubber Summit.
Bridgestone Corp. Chairman Shoshi Arakawa, recently retired Michelin CEO Michel Rollier and Semperit A.G. CEO Thomas Fahnemann all addressed the subject during the International Rubber Study Group's May 22-24 World Rubber Summit in Singapore.
Arakawa said Bridgestone is committing itself to develop tires made with 100-percent sustainable raw materials by 2050.
Among the initiatives Bridgestone is pursuing to achieve its goal is research into natural rubber alternatives guayule and Russian dandelion, processes to develop synthetic rubber, carbon black and rubber compounding agents from biomass materials and practical application of new cellulose fibers to produce yarns that would substitute for petroleum-derived polyester and nylon.
Bridgestone has not to date disclosed what it intends to invest in this research.
The sustainability pledge is part of Bridgestone's long-term environmental goals, which also include contributing to the globally agreed target for carbon dioxide emissions reduction.
Bridgestone recently disclosed plans to fund research into the viability of guayule and the Russian dandelion as NR alternatives.
Among other materials, Bridgestone claims it has successfully created butadiene—used in SBR synthetic rubber—produced from bioethanol and has developed carbon black from intermediate materials created from biomass materials, but it has not disclosed details.
In addition to these initiatives, Arakawa said Bridgestone is pursuing the development of technologies that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions through improved fuel efficiency and technologies that can be applied throughout the value chain, from raw materials through finished products.
Bridgestone will report on the progress of these initiatives “as appropriate.”
Michelin's Rollier said the French tire manufacturer aims to use no more natural resources, even if tire sales double in the coming decades.
A roadblock to using more natural rubber, which is sustainable, is the volatility and high cost of NR. Rollier said Michelin is working on the development of bio-butadiene with bio-engineering company, Azelis.
Semperit's Fahnemann said these factors led his company to increase the use of synthetic nitrile latex to make gloves, at the expense of NR latex. He said that in 2011 the company's mix of NR to nitrile moved from 80:20 to 60:40 and may change more if the volatility in prices continues.