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There is a much quicker way to recycle old tyres

Have you heard of fast pyrolysis? Tyre producer Continental is sharing its rubber expertise with the Dutch University of Twente to decompose used car tyres at high temperatures ‘in a matter of seconds’. The new process is said to generate valuable materials and fuels to create new tyres.

More than one billion tyres are replaced worldwide every year, Continental estimates. These tyres combined contain almost 4.5 million tonnes of valuable products such as carbon black, metals, fuels, and chemicals.

The University of Twente and Continental are eager to push the boundaries of end-of-life tyre recycling to achieve a more sustainable solution. The novel approach may also reduce a shortage of carbon black experienced by US tyre producers.

The research initiative is co-funded by the Dutch Materials Innovations Institute. Project leader Professor Gerrit Brem, from the university’s thermal engineering department, says the ‘breakthrough’ is the result of combining the best from the worlds of energy technology and materials engineering. 

Many applications

According to Dr Wilma Dierkes of the Elastomer Technology & Engineering department: ‘A successful development means that the innovative pyrolysis process contributes to a high percentage of recycled tyres and other rubber materials in cradle-to-cradle cycles for sustainable car tyres’.

She points out that the fast pyrolysis technique is also capable of converting other waste flows into high-quality materials. Examples include: fuels and minerals from paper sludge; carbon fibres from transport and industrial composite waste; or glass fibres from disassembled boats or wind turbines.

The tyres of tomorrow

A tyre is no longer simply a tyre, according to Continental. At the end of last year, it unveiled a new range of ‘intelligent’ tyres made from electrically conductive rubber. The ContiSense tyres are equipped with miniature sensors to measure tread depth, temperature and tears. The driver receives an alert via Bluetooth when a tyre is damaged. This innovation is expected to substantially increase the life cycle of tyres.

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