The environmental benefits of tire technology must include more than just the materials the tire is built from, said Tim Koonts, business development manager, mechanical rubber goods for Teijin Aramid.
Koonts discussed how sustainability trends could shape the future of rubber products in "Key Financial and Environmental Benefits for Twaron Use in Tires," his presentation at the International Tire Exhibition & Conference in Akron, Sept. 11-13.
"'Sustainability, green initiatives,' we hear these buzzwords all the time," Koonts said. "They're not buzzwords. They're rapidly becoming, and have become, a way of life for us. That is part of the foundation on which we build our business."
As transportation continues to evolve along with the raw materials associated with transportation products, the tire industry is called to meet environmental challenges, he said. Consumers globally will need tires that are low weight, with low rolling resistance and a long lifetime.
The concept of a "green tire" is more important to understand now than ever, as climate change continues to impact the environment, Koonts said. Scientists argue that the last three years on Earth have been the hottest in recorded history, and the International Panel on Climate Change, as part of the United Nations, said the recent average increase in temperature is extremely likely to have been caused by human activities. About 95-98 percent of climate scientists believe that climate change is caused by human factors.
Koonts said there could be two solutions going forward. First, there are preventative measures, to prevent future damage. Second, curative measures to fix what is already broken. For tire manufacturers, there are opportunities to assist in any possible response.
"What does that mean for those of us in this room? If we can contribute to all improvement scenarios, it not only benefits us as a member of a global society, but it also can be a good building block for business opportunities," Koonts said. "'Eco' always leads to business."
Climate change mindset
The automotive business has also evolved on climate change over time, starting with a period of "eco-awareness" in the 1990s in which the first steps were taken to address cars as contributors to pollution, Koonts said. In the early 2000s, the industry moved to "eco-efficiency," where it was producing more with less energy and less of a burden to the environment, with more fuel-efficient vehicles and biofuels.
The current era is "eco-effectiveness," when environmental, technological and economic problems are brought together to find common solutions that address all three, he said.
"With the rapid growth of digitalization and other global trends, we see whole industries transforming," Koonts said. "Autonomous driving is no longer a science fiction concept and mobility as a service would perhaps increase in the future, following the trend of urbanization. Taking all of these advances into account as well as the opportunities and the challenges they present, it is necessary for the conception of eco-clean solutions, solutions that result in a net positive impact for the environment."
Even though there is talk of rollback of CAFE standards, much of the focus on how cars can become more efficient is placed on tires, he said. The goal is to manufacture tires that benefit the environment from the start all the way through its lifecycle. This means reducing global warming while making lighter tires, requiring less fuel with a better CO2 footprint and lower overall cost.
"We think lifecycle, big picture, and we think business. It's important to know that when you measure, it's not a measure of CO2 emissions or chemical reduction implementation into the landfill, or complying with rules and regulations," Koonts said. "It's more of a mindset."
Teijin Aramid has focused on scaling back its own CO2 footprint to show its commitment, reducing by 31 percent since 2008 and planning a further 7 percent by 2020, he said. The company has also developed a Customer Benefit Model in partnership with a Dutch sustainability firm, which it uses to measure the impact of products at a customer level, both in the financial benefit and the environmental benefit. Teijin Aramid used the CBM tool to determine the potential of using its Twaron product, a para-aramid material in tire manufacturing. The product is generally knowns as a ballistic material, and can also be used in fiber optics, conveyor belts, belts and hoses.
"To a lot of people, the word 'green' speaks to the input raw materials, and the fact that they might be bio-based, and the fact that bio-based might be better," Koonts said. "This approach is certainly contributory to the overall story, but it does not tell the whole picture."
A "green" tire
One example is the possibility of using rayon, a cellulose-based material, in tire manufacturing. As a bio-based material, a rayon-constructed tire could be a "green tire," Koonts said.
"But a tire that results in better eco performance over the whole life value of the chain may be another definition," he said. "It is important to note that in the lifecycle of the tire, 90 percent of the emissions and resulting climate change impact occur in the usage phase. And only 10 percent are related to raw materials and production, with less than 1 percent being transportation."
To get the most out of a green tire, the focus should be on maximizing benefits gained during the tire's performance, Koonts said.
"Does it have a longer lifeline, or less rolling resistance? Any benefit gained via the maximization of the other aspects will be far outweighed if they are followed by resulting negative impact here in the usage phase," Koonts said. "If you want to make a tire truly green, then you should focus on improving this 90 percent."
Teijin Aramid's analysis compared three scenarios: One with only rayon mixed with rubber, one with only Twaron, and one hybrid of Twaron and polyester at a 1:1 solution. The analysis looked at statistics regarding heat, total rubber use, weight, energy loss and rolling resistance.
The rayon and rubber model used 300 grams of rayon embedded with 600 grams of rubber for 900 grams of material. The Twaron-only model used 100 grams of Twaron embedded in 200 grams of rubber, for a 66 percent reduction in weight. The hybrid model used equal amounts of polyester and Twaron to reach 400 grams. The hybrid solution might not be the lightest or a fully bio-based tire, but it gave the most opportunities overall, Koonts said.
"The key is to develop the solution in order to maximize the benefits that you hope to develop," he said. "Weight reduction is the highest in the full aramid solution, but this might lead to a tire that is too stiff and has less comfort due to the high dynamic stiffness of the aramid fiber."
The hybrid equals the rayon tire in comfort but still runs at a lower weight and rolling resistance, he said.
"So what does this mean in use?" Koonts said. "We have the effect on fuel use, the lighter tire, less rolling resistance, and we have an effect on fuel use during driving. And, it performs better with financial environmental savings and use."
Looking at the tires in raw terms of sustainability, the rayon tire looks like the most "green" tire at first because of its bio-based input materials, Koonts said. Going to the overall carbon footprint, then the hybrid makes the most sense, and is also the least-expensive solution. Making a "green" tire means giving heavy consideration to the tire's usage, where the majority of its environmental impact takes place.
"We'd love to work with any of you to maximize our benefit to you and maximize our benefit to the economy, in the global economy and sustainability going forward, so that we can in fact be responsible to both our customers and our greater global economy," Koonts said.