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Raw materials in greater demand and "greener"

Environmental issues are increasingly present and tires, increasingly "green" both in terms of materials and energy management, will not be spared. “Green” policies will affect every part of a tire as well as emerging and even futuristic technologies.

Nicodemo Angì

The tire market is expected to grow in the coming years and this is good news for the industry as a whole. This will be reflected, as it is logical to expect, also on raw materials, despite a scenario that is witnessing a gradual shift towards eco-friendly materials and “green” technologies. This, at least, according to several forecasts that span over the next decade. Future Market Insight, for example, recalls that in 2018 the global market for materials used in the production of tires was worth almost $67 billion. However, over the 2018-2028 decade, revenues are estimated to be growing at a compound annual rate of 4%.


Countries driving  the growth

Among the causes of this trend, experts point to an expected increase in tire production in key countries such as China (the Pacific area is also growing), India and Brazil. Factors contributing to this result include also a vast availability of raw materials, low labour costs and less stringent environmental and government regulations. This will likely result in tire manufacturers encouraged to expand their production in these areas and this will affect the demand for raw materials. Forecasts for North America and Europe speak of lower growth in the period considered, due to stagnating demand for motor vehicles and imports from China.


The rise of silica, the fall of retreads

Among the materials, silica is expected to take the lion’s share, increasingly used as reinforcing filler in place of carbon black. The use of this additive reduces rolling resistance by 20% and fuel consumption by 5%. These percentages are interesting, considering that road transport accounts for about 20% of CO2 emissions in the EU and other industrialised countries. The use of silica as a filler in developing “green” tires is estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by almost 7%. Retreading, on the other hand, records a countertrend in an otherwise expansive framework, with a persisting decline, at least in certain sectors, due to a large extent to a widespread availability of non-retreadable low-cost tires, a phenomenon especially felt in the automotive sector. The number of retreaded tires fell from 15.3 million in 2014 to 14.3 million in 2017.


Commercial vehicles in the limelight

The global development of the industry, for example production, mining and utilities have already led to higher sales in the heavy and light commercial sector, expected to increase further during the period under review and therefore many tire manufacturers are focusing their attention on the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and African markets. The idea is to take advantage of the expansion of these markets, which translates into a higher demand for raw materials.

Another forecast by SmithersRapra, on the other hand, focused on eco-friendly tires, considering both low rolling resistance and eco-sustainable co-extrusion. The research reports that in 2018 the global market for "green" tires was $81.6 billion, or about 38% of the total. A projection shows an increase of about 11% per year in value and volume until 2023, when the value is expected to reach $ 137 billion.


Resources for all

Driving the market is the expansion of the middle class and the consequent increase in the number of new registrations in emerging economies, particularly in Asia. However, the concern about greenhouse gas emissions and the finite nature of natural resources, faced with a growing number of consumers, is also important. Hence the growing demands for more sustainable products, such as sustainable tires.

As a result, manufacturers are experimenting with green technologies, including tires produced from more sustainable sources. To achieve this, strategic partnerships have been signed with researchers, government and biotech companies: the target is to direct all efforts in the development of renewable rubber on a commercial scale.


Sugar-based rubber?

Take Kuraray as an example. The Japanese multinational company announced back in 2017 that its liquid Farnesene was going to be used in tires. Sumitomo Rubber started using this liquid rubber, made from sugar cane with special yeasts, as an additive to improve the performance of its WinterMaxx 02 winter tire. This polymer, developed in collaboration with Amyris, a biotechnology company, is the key “ingredient” to improve grip on snow and ice.

Sustainable tires are constantly perfected to minimise rolling resistance through fillers such as highly dispersible silica (HD silica or HDS), improved carbon black and nanomaterials. This is a segment that will likely expand significantly until and even beyond 2023, but the future belongs to oil-free synthetic rubbers or derived from sustainable crops. Bio-technologies of this kind, still represent small volumes and values, but their commercial potential will unfold towards the end of the forecasted period. 


The weight of new mobility

The rising demand for eco-friendly tires will lead to a parallel increase in the consumption of raw materials, with demand rising from 17.8 million tonnes in 2018 to 29 million tonnes in 2023. Elastomers, fillers and textiles are the main categories and growth will be driven by sustainable ones such as natural rubber and rayon fabrics.

Hybrid and electric vehicles are the "natural" market for sustainable tires. All the more so as sustainability is the hallmark of these cars and should therefore also be extended to their tires. As we know, these must handle high torques and loads, minimising, at the same time, friction so as not to compromise mileage: their growing popularity will therefore drive the future production of tires. It is also interesting to know that EV and hybrid owners are more likely to replace sustainable tires with equivalent products, regardless of price.

The next big trend is autonomous driving, although we will still need to wait a few more years. It is likely that most of these vehicles will be electric and fitted with tires with very low rolling resistance. Additionally, these will most likely be "smart" and connected, providing detailed, real-time information on the condition of the tire.

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