Michelin isn’t caving on its sustainability goals. In February, 2021, the French brand announced its plans to produce 100-percent sustainable tires by 2050. That ambitious milestone won’t be easy to achieve, but the tire manufacturer is making great strides.
Most recently, Michelin partnered with French biochemistry company Carbios for its enzymatic recycling technology. Single-use polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles account for a large portion of yearly pollution, and Michelin wants to put them to good use. Utilizing Carbios’ process, the brand can turn PET plastic waste into reinforcing fibers for its tires.
When combined with Carbios’ enzymes, the PET plastic breaks down into two purified monomers. Michelin can then re-polymerize the ingredients into new PET tailored for its purposes.
“In 2019, we announced the production of the first PET bottles with 100% Purified Terephthalic Acid (rPTA) from the enzymatic recycling of used plastics,” said Cabios scientific director Alain Marty. “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.”
Unlike thermo-mechanical recycling, Carbios’ enzymatic approach also preserves the product’s integrity. While Michelin’s green goals are the main objective, they don't want to sacrifice the tire's high-grade performance.
“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,” stated Michelin polymer research director Nicolas Seeboth. “These high-tech reinforcements have demonstrated their ability to provide performance identical to those from the oil industry.”
There’s still a long way to go before Michelin can claim 100 percent sustainable tire manufacturing, but the new PET plastic waste recycling program is one giant leap toward that goal.