Intelligent Living
Michelin To Make Tires Out Of Recycled Plastic Bottles
(Credit: Toby Parsons from Pixabay)

Michelin To Make Tires Out Of Recycled Plastic Bottles

In February 2021, Michelin set targets to achieve 40% sustainable materials (of recycled or renewable origin) in its tires by 2030 and 100% by 2050. The ambitious milestone won’t be easy because tires are made of hundreds of ingredients. But the French brand’s most recent announcement reveals it’s one step closer to making those goals a reality.

The mega-tire-manufacturer has partnered with Carbios, a French biochemistry company that has developed an enzymatic recycling process for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic waste. The technology relies on an enzyme that can depolymerize plastic.

PET is the type of plastic commonly used to make single-use bottles, polyester fabrics, and some carpets. It is one of the significant sources of plastic pollution. Fortunately, Michelin wants to take PET single-use bottles and put them to good use as an ingredient in its tires using Carbios technology.

The PET breaks down into two purified monomers when combined with Carbios’ enzymes. In this state, Michelin can re-polymerize the monomers into new PET tailored for its purposes.

Michelin To Make Tires Out Of Recycled Plastic Bottles
(Credit: MathieuGallion from Pixabay)

Cabios scientific director Alain Marty said:

In 2019, we announced the production of the first PET bottles with 100% Purified Terephthalic Acid (rPTA) from the enzymatic recycling of used plastics. Today, with Michelin, we are demonstrating the full extent of our process by obtaining, from these same used plastics, a recycled PET suitable for highly technical fibers.

Carbios will turn nuisance plastic waste that’s destroying our planet into reinforced fibers for Michelin tires. They’ve already tested the technology for this purpose with successful results.

Nicolas Seeboth, Michelin’s director of polymer research, said:

We are very proud to be the first to have produced and tested technical fibers for use in tires, reinforcements made from colored bottles treated with the enzymatic technology of our partner Carbios. These high-tech reinforcements have demonstrated their ability to provide performance identical to those from the oil industry.

Carbios’ enzymatic approach preserves the product’s integrity, unlike thermo-mechanical recycling that weakens the plastic. This is important because Michelin doesn’t want to sacrifice the tire’s high-grade performance, even though sustainability is of utmost concern.

Michelin said:

[Conventional recycling practices do not result in a product suitable for use in tires, but the enzymatic process resulting in] high tenacity polyester is particularly suitable for tires, due to its breakage resistance, toughness, and thermal stability.

The new partnership and its PET plastic waste recycling program are undoubtedly a giant leap in the right direction. However, there’s still a long way before Michelin can boast 100% sustainable tires. Nevertheless, the company estimates that approximately three billion single-use plastic bottles could be recycled annually into technical fibers for use in its tires.

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