Whether it's recapturing carbon, or developing alternative forms of natural rubber, Bridgestone's main goal is to have the greatest impact on the tire and rubber industry—in other words, "move the needle," Niaura said.
"We are on the cusps of these things," he said. "They're going to happen. They're not easy problems to solve."
Niaura also emphasized that the work with LanzaTech may help solve part of the ELT problem, but won't replace existing technologies such as rubberized asphalt.
"I think there is space for all of these solutions," he said. "This is not a competition. It's an attempt to solve a problem that is huge."
The Bridgestone executive can imagine someday an industrial complex where, on one end, you take in biomass and, through a number of unit operations, you produce everything the tire industry needs.
"I can make carbon black. I can make synthetic rubber. I can make fibers," Niaura said. "Theoretically we could do it, but right now we can't afford that or justify anybody to invest that money in it."
Until that time, the work is ongoing at different locations. As with many modern collaborations, some is done at LanzaTech sites, while other parts are done in Bridgestone labs. Syn-gas is made out of tires at one place. That is then bottled and taken somewhere else for fermentation. Then you take the ethanol somewhere else and convert it into butadiene.
For Bridgestone, it's part of the Sustainable Solutions Business that is now in place. For sustainability goals, Bridgestone—like many firms—has targeted 2050 as the year it wants to be carbon neutral and make tires from 100-percent renewable materials. But Niaura said there also are goals built in along the way, with many expected to be completed by 2030.
He said the pathway begins with the critical raw materials, and everything that is believed possible, along with the technologies to underlie that. This is where it becomes clear which firms—both traditional along with newcomers—may be identified as potential partners.
At some point, procurement becomes involved, and the question of whether the new materials can be supplied evolves over time.
"I think we're starting to see our existing supply base take this transition to sustainable materials seriously," Niaura said. "They're engaged, and we're going to co-create some solutions."
Bridgestone sees this as the next phase of its evolution. He said Bridgestone 1.0 was the founding of the corporation as a tire manufacturer in Japan. Bridgestone 2.0 started with the purchase of Firestone and Bandag, making Bridgestone into a global player.
And now Bridgestone 3.0 represents a transition to a sustainable company.
That has two phases. One is the digitization of tires and how different service models can deliver sustainability by optimizing tires; and its use phase for retreading and final use.
Niaura said Bridgestone has been putting money behind this next phase, through such moves as the acquisition of the Telematics Division of Tom Tom, now rebranded as Web Fleet Solutions. It also has taken minority investments in a host of companies.
"Every tire does in fact come to an end, and (Sustainable Business Solutions) sees how we can make something that is good for society and for business," he said. "How can we leverage our presence in the marketplace to make this yet another piece of our business?"
Bridgestone's partnership with LanzaTech aligns with the Bridgestone E8 Commitment that serves as the axis to drive management to earn the trust of future generations. The commitment consists of eight Bridgestone values that start with the letter "E," and the work with LanzaTech falls under both the "Ecology" and "Energy" values.
Other values include Efficiency, Extension, Economy, Emotion, Ease and Empowerment.