Innovation That Matters

Tyres are black because they contain carbon black derived from fossil fuels | Photo source Nazim Zafri on Unsplash

A bio-based carbon black for tyres

Mobility & Transport

A new partnership could help to clean-up the rubber used in automobile manufacturing

Spotted: Ever wondered why tyres are black? It’s because they contain carbon black. Natural rubber latex is a milky white colour, and the very first rubber tyres were white. But manufacturers began incorporating carbon black as a filler in order to increase abrasion resistance and tensile strength, to conduct heat away from the tread and belts of the tyres, and to help protect the tyres from UV rays and ozone — all of which can shorten the tyres’ lifespan. In fact, without carbon black, tyres would likely last just 5000 miles.

So, what’s the problem? Carbon black is a byproduct of the combustion of various petroleum products and is very unsustainable. Global production of carbon black generates around 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Carbon negative materials company Origin Materials has developed a sustainable alternative carbon black. The new product is made from hydrothermal carbon, a product derived from sustainable wood residue rather than fossil resources, and has a carbon-negative footprint.

Origin has recently announced that it is partnering with Intertex World Resources, a distributor of synthetic rubber, carbon black, and rubber chemicals to produce Origin’s bio-carbon black for tyres, as well as for belts, hoses, rubber seals, plastic extrusion, and other mechanical rubber goods. The products could go a long way towards decarbonising the rubber and automotive supply chain.

Greg Sibley, Managing Partner for Intertex, explained that the company feels the time is right for the decarbonisation of the automotive parts supply chain. “The world is looking for sustainable replacements for fossil-fuel-based products, including carbon black… With our markets in tyres, belts, hoses, and other mechanical rubber goods, all of which are looking for sustainable raw materials, we believe this partnership will allow us to give our customers a decided market advantage.” 

It is clear that decarbonisation is a very complex process – so many of the products that we use every day, and that manufacturers depend on, are derived from fossil fuels. Some other innovations aiming to find substitutes for fossil-fuel-derived products include tyres that replace petroleum-derived materials with soybean oil, a biodegradable plastic that is made from plant waste instead of fossil fuels, and a t-shirt that is dyed using black algae instead of carbon black.

Written By: Lisa Magloff



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