FULL STEAM AHEAD ON ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS
The German multinational focuses on research and development: natural raw materials are used when they are not recycled, reducing harmful emissions and going as far as recovering heat from its production plants.
What does the Russian dandelion have in common with the recent Expo in Milan? If you think that food and feeding the planet is the answer, think again! During the Milan event, Continental held a meeting with the press and its distribution network to illustrate its future truck tires made from dandelion. From Taraxacum, as it is also called, a type of natural rubber can be produced; yes, that irreplaceable component for large tires. If tires designed for lighter vehicles can use 100% synthetic rubber, or polymers, tires produced for trucks, buses, trailers and industrial machinery use high percentages of natural rubber, made from Havea Brasiliensis. One need not be a Latin expert to understand that we are talking about a plant that originates in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, it only grows in that part of the world, with all the logistics problems and pollution resulting from the transport of the raw material to other parts of the world, where most tire factories are located. Now, a Continental researcher, Carla Recker, along with two researchers from the Institute for plant biology and biotechnology at the University of Münster, gave life to the Rubin project, in order to study the genes responsible for the production of rubber and the properties of a plant that grows abundantly in the Northern Hemisphere, and often used in salads! The first prototypes of tires made from dandelion have already completed a cycle of summer and winter tests, and displayed the same properties of natural rubber; and now the company is performing studies on its industrialization process, and in no less than five years the first taraxa-gum tires should hit the streets. Cultivating the raw material close to the production plants will result in a rather significant reduction in pollution, as transport distances would be almost completely eliminated.
A HURRICANE HITS CONTINENTAL
For every mile, retread after retread, the time comes, also for truck tires, to reach the end of their useful life. What then? To date they were generally disposed in dumps or recycled for other purposes: porous asphalt and sports surfaces are just two examples. In short, things destined to end up under our feet. Continental engineers have thought of something better, though: to produce new tires from old ones. A rather high level of recycling. To achieve such a result, they created a machine capable of reducing rubber into powder, separating it mechanically from the steel belts that make up the supporting structure of a casing. The steel residue left in the rubber is then separated through a powerful magnet, and is then sold to steel manufacturers that will recycle it. The resulting rubber powder, on the other hand, remains at Continental and is used in new tire compounds or retreading components such as treads or sidewalls. The machine that does all this has a rather menacing name, Hurricane Machine. Created by Martin Theusner, former head of the Environment Protection department at Continental CVT (Commercial Vehicle Tires), this “monster” was then industrialized in cooperation with a company specializing in recycling machines, and is now operational at the Puchov plant in Slovakia, where the entire supply network, as well as Continental’s European factories, send their ELTs. From there, rubber grains leave to find a new life or application besides improving the quality of our life as industrial pollution drops.
LOOKING TO THE WEB FOR A “GREEN” FUTURE
One of the most common stereotypes is that the manufacturing industry is "old economy", destined sooner or later to disappear, while the web represents the "new economy", modern panacea for all evils. At Continental the firm belief is that the Internet and telematics can make the manufacturing industry a little less "old" and above all, more efficient and environmentally friendlier, including an industry as “old” as transport, that still makes extensive use of oil derivatives. Tracking and following up the lifecycle of a tire helps to manage it better, making the most of it economically and environmentally, while keeping an eye on safety. "Focusing only on immediate savings rather than the cost of the entire lifecycle of tires," said Daniel Ganza, sales manager of Continental Commercial Vehicles Italia Spa, "can lead to errors payable even in the short run". Continental LifeCycle 2.0, on the other hand, is a set of systems and methods of managing the entire lifecycle of a casing; when applied to a whole commercial fleet, the results in terms of cost savings and reduction of the environmental impact are rather substantial. "More casings available for retreads means not only a reduction in the use of raw materials, but also a hefty reduction in waste disposal, a procedure that has a great environmental impact indeed," according to the director of Retread business truck tires of EMEA, Christian Sass. "Our company’s commitment," said the CEO of Continental Spa Italia, Alessandro De Martino, "is directed at reducing the use of materials with a high environmental impact, or not recyclable, increasing, at the same time, the use of renewable raw materials". The latest technological development revolves around the recovery of the heat produced through the production processes, which is then used to heat the factory and offices, as well as industrial machines.
In Europe, fortunately, drought has never been a problem. On the other hand, the containment of vehicle TCOs is a problem. This does not, however, justify the irresponsible use of water in tire retreading processes, one of the most important ways to reduce TCO. Hence, the new hot cure system used in the company’s Hanover-Stöcken plant uses 80% less water than traditional techniques. The use of energy and waste production (these are definitely tangible issues...) decreased respectively by 50 and 80%, while emissions were reduced by 7800 tons of carbon dioxide. Stöcken retreads are made with rubber powder produced in the Slovakian plant.
AND THE WINNER IS: CONTINENTAL!
Rubber from Russian dandelion: Joseph von Fraunhofer Award 2015 (37th edition), awarded by the Fraunhofer Institute of molecular biology and applied ecology of Munich, which recognizes the most important scientific and technical innovations. Dr. Recker and two other scientists who have worked with her received the award.
Hanover-Stöcken factory: European Transport Sustainability Prize, awarded every two years by Huss, a Munich-based publishing company, rewards new sustainable achievements for industrial vehicles and their components. Marko Multhaupt, sales and marketing division manager of replacement truck and bus tires, received the award. Overall, operational efficiency accounted for 30% of the total evaluation, ecological life cycle for 40% and social responsibility for the last 30%.
Tire manufacturer of the year 2014: awarded at the Tire Technology Expo in Cologne, rewards the quality of the product and strategic visions for the future, like the Vision 2025 program currently in progress.
Hurricane Machine: reducing environmental impact obtained with the recycling of rubber earned Continental a Tire Technology Expo Award for Excellence, which was assigned at the Cologne fair.
Ecoplus HT3: the IAA of Hannover has awarded this prize for the third generation insurance coverage for trailers, also in view of how the vehicle being towed is responsible for 60% of the friction generated by the truck/trailer combination. The HT3 reduces this friction by 28%, and thanks to their dual-compound, tread consumption is contained within 2 liters / 100 km.