Niaura said the tire industry has done some of the easy things related to moving toward future supply chain goals. The sector has recognized sustainability as an attribute that can be accounted for.
But there are different priorities at different levels in the industry, some with more generic aims and others that are more specific.
"At the corporate level, we want to be producing a renewable product," he said. "We want to be carbon neutral, and we want to be using fully sustainable feedstocks"
At the product level, however, new materials must be judged on traditional performance criteria such as traction, rolling resistance and tread life. "More importantly, as those things go to market, the more you get the more you pay," he said. "Establishing that value in the marketplace will be what enables that sort of trickle-down to (be able to) compete for scarce resources at the supplier level."
One area where the rubber and other chemical-related industries is at a disadvantage, Niaura said, is when it comes to government incentives, which influence where scarce resources are directed. There are incentives in place for firms that produce ethanol as a transportation fuel, sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel and renewable natural gas.
There are none, however, for low carbon, sustainable chemicals or materials, he said. The rubber industry also must keep in mind that as transportation moves away from petrochemicals as a fuel, a lot of the raw materials used to produce SR are co-products or by-products of other material production, so supplies of these feedstocks will begin to dwindle.
But while there are hurdles that must be cleared, Niaura sees a bright future as rubber and tire manufacturers move toward a world of sustainable supply and carbon neutrality. It's really a matter of looking at the perspective of the players at each point of the supply chain, understanding the value of the new technology, leveraging existing infrastructure to make sustainable materials, all while keeping an eye on the longer-term transition.
"The post-2030 vision is where investments get made into new technology at a scale that really competes with and replaces traditional petrochemical processes," he said.