While many governments and auto manufacturers have made major progress when it comes to reducing toxic emissions from cars, we need to remember that the production, use and disposal of tyres too has significant adverse impact on the environment.
Tire manufacturing uses up about 70 percent of the natural rubber produced in the world and natural rubber is obtained from the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. 93 percent of the rubber trees in the world are grown in Asia, in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and India which are already struggling with deforestation.
In addition to natural rubber, synthetic rubber is also used in tyres to offset shortage of natural rubber. Synthetic rubber is derived from petroleum. Another substance used in tyre manufacture as a filler is carbon black which is also obtained either from petroleum or natural gas. Hence, production of tyres uses up plenty of petroleum and energy and leaves a large carbon tread-print. These tyres are then shipped over large distances using vehicles to different markets.
When the tyres are used on vehicles, they create drag in order to create traction and ensure durability. This causes vehicles to use up more fuel than needed and researchers have estimated that 86 per cent of the greenhouse emissions attributed to tyres are caused by rolling resistance. This is why many leading tyre manufactures are now switching to tyres offering lower rolling resistance and trying out new materials like rice husks and soyabeans as substitutes for petroleum based products.
As part of its efforts to become more sustainable, Hankook opened a futuristic research and development center near Seoul called the Technodome in 2016. Technodome is a LEED-certified facility that is made entirely from recyclable building materials. It is powered by geothermal and solar energy and is billed as “an energy recycling facility as it has a high-tech area with advanced insulation that converts natural light into usable forms of energy. It also has a water-saving facility and special parking spaces for fuel-efficient cars. The other parking spaces are in the basement, thus reducing the thermal island effect.
At the facility itself, the emphasis is on making fuel-efficient tyres with advanced technologies and bespoke design to reduce the impact on the environment. One example is the Enfren Eco tyre that has a special silica compound and unique design to maximize fuel efficiency. It the OEM tyre for the Ford C-MAX Energi PHEV, a plug-in hybrid that can achieve a mileage of 104 mpg in the city. The silica in the tyre is derived from sand micro-particles and can be used as a substitute for synthetic and natural rubbers, giving the tyre plenty of traction without much rolling resistance. According to Hankook, the Enfren tyre has the best gas mileage rating in Europe, Japan and Korea.
Other areas that researchers at the Hankook Technodome are working on include technology to integrate eco-friendly material, new material development, and simulation technology as well as networking technology.
The tyre manufacturer said in a statement that Hankook Technodome is equipped with high-tech facilities and the optimal work environment to strengthen its global competitiveness through innovation while developing products that can cater to the varied needs of customers.
Other tyre manufacturers are also working on sustainable products and technologies. Bridgestone’s aim is to reduce emissions by 35 percent by 2020, and by 50 percent by 2050. The company plans to do this by working on producing rubber from guayule, a shrub that grows in the desert. Cooper too is working on technology to produce rubber from guayule. Michelin was able to reduce carbon emissions from its operations by 20 percent between 2005 and 2011.Continental is working on technology to produce rubber from dandelion which grows in temperate region. Further development of this technology will mean lower carbon footprints due to reduction of emissions related to transportation of tyres to retail customers. As long as companies continue to compete with each other on the sustainability front, it is the environment and the customers who emerge as winners.
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