Tires are hardly an exciting subject, although they are crucial for cars’ safety and performance. The tire industry is also one of the most overlooked sources of pollution by the public, while the authorities… Let’s just say that regulating this industry is not their main priority.
But in the race to decarbonization, we can’t afford to skip any source of pollution. Especially considering that manufacturing one simple tire requires about seven gallons of oil (a truck tire requires more than 20!) and many raw materials and chemicals.
Then consider the pollutants when the tire is used, because dust resulting from friction between rubber and road is no small thing at all. Imagine around 1.5 billion vehicles are driving around all over the world. Now multiply this by at least four wheels. Sounds like a lot of toxic dust, doesn’t it?
How about the pollutants related to the tire’s end of life? We like to think retired tires are recyclable. For now, almost half of them are used as tire-derived fuel or in cement manufacturing, while recycling through pyrolysis or devulcanization is energy intensive.
Of course, these are issues that tire manufacturers will eventually overcome, but this may take some time, even decades. However, there is a particular non-technical issue that raises a lot of ethical problems, along with environmental ones.
How is deforestation related to tire manufacturing?
The rubber industry has already contributed to mass deforestation across the world, to plant more and more rubber trees instead. You heard about the same problem with palm oil.
Every year, millions and millions of acres of ancient forests are cut down or even purposely set on fire for farmers and companies to plant lucrative trees. Like rubber trees used mainly in the tire industry.
It kind of is time for this industry to source natural rubber in a much more responsible and sustainable way. That means companies must find a way to track the source of raw materials and ensure they’re properly obtained.
Welcome to Invisible Marker technology
Continental’s engineers used a marker substance to invisibly mark natural rubber with information on its geographical origin. This was possible thanks to the partnership with SMX (Security Matters), an innovative tech platform specializing in digital tracking, using unalterable chemical-based barcodes.
It may sound complicated, and I’m sure all the details are boring. After all, almost none of us liked chemistry in high school, right? Although chemistry is the base for all things… But let’s get back to our invisible marker.
This marked latex was then used in the manufacturing process of a bike tire. You shouldn’t underestimate how intensive such a process is, because it involves heat and chemicals that risk affecting the marker’s properties.
Continental and SMX used purpose-built software and a reader to prove that the marker substance kept untainted all the information relevant to the origin of the rubber in the tire. I know it’s not as exciting as Elon’s polls on Twitter, but this chemical marker is proving itself as a game-changer tech.The substance was added in a precise concentration to latex during harvesting in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan. This powder may look like ordinary sugar, but it’s embedded with special security features.
A new pillar for sustainable sourcing of raw materials
Using this new marker technology on a larger scale in the future will help Continental to achieve the goal of 100% sustainable materials for tires by 2050 at the latest. Of course, we still have to see if manufacturing a car or truck tire is also successful, but we’re confident.
While the use of sustainable materials doesn’t necessarily imply zero pollution, it’s still a huge step forward because it will slash a massive amount of emissions related to materials sourcing. Also, not harming the environment any longer is of critical importance for our survival on this planet.
The impact of this technology on almost all industries is going to be colossal. By linking these invisible chemical markers to blockchain technology, we can witness a revolution in monitoring compliance and real transparency of the supply chain in virtually any field and for most raw materials.
Can you imagine an entirely sustainable car? Yes, Greta, it seems feasible now. That’s why this chemical marker thing is a small step for Continental, but a giant leap for our technological society. Wait, did I just paraphrase Armstrong?