Innovative Partnership Chemically Recycles Tyres into High-Quality Automotive Plastics

Neste, Borealis, and Covestro have joined forces to chemically recycle used tyres into high-quality plastics. This collaboration leverages advanced chemical recycling processes to convert end-of-life tyres into essential base chemicals, which are subsequently refined into high-purity polycarbonates. These recycled polycarbonates are poised to revolutionise the production of various automotive components, including headlamps and radiator grilles, thereby enhancing circularity within the plastics value chain.

Innovative Partnership Chemically Recycles Tyres into High-Quality Automotive Plastics
Left to Right: Jeroen Verhoeven (Neste), Thomas Van De Velde (Borealis), Guido Naberfeld (Covestro) (Photo: Covestro)
June 17, 2024

The innovative recycling process begins with the liquefaction of discarded tyres, transforming them into a liquid form that serves as a precursor for further chemical processing. The resultant base chemicals are meticulously converted into polycarbonates that match the quality of virgin plastics derived from crude oil. This breakthrough ensures that the recycled plastics meet stringent industry standards, encompassing aspects such as paintability and crash safety, making them viable for use in a wide range of vehicle components.

Mercedes-Benz has already integrated these high-quality recycled plastics into their EQE and S-Class models. Notably, bow door handles and crash absorbers in these vehicles are manufactured using a blend of biomethane and pyrolysis oil derived from old tyres, rather than traditional fossil resources. The company plans to expand the use of this sustainable material in forthcoming models, including the EQE SUV and EQS SUV.

Chemical recycling, as demonstrated in this partnership, complements mechanical recycling and signifies a pivotal step towards maximising the reuse of recyclable scrap materials. This method not only reduces dependence on fossil resources but also has the potential to decouple high-quality plastic production from crude oil, promoting a more sustainable and economically beneficial manufacturing paradigm.

Environmental Benefits of Using Pyrolysis Oil from Recycled Tyres

The pyrolysis of end-of-life tyres offers a myriad of environmental advantages compared to conventional disposal methods and the use of virgin fossil fuels:

  1. Reduction in Fossil Resource Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: By substituting pyrolysis oil for conventional fossil fuels, the recycling process significantly cuts down on the extraction of new fossil resources. This reduction translates to lower greenhouse gas emissions, contributing positively to climate change mitigation efforts.
  2. Lower Emissions of Particulate Matter and Pollutants: Unlike tyre incineration, pyrolysis breaks down polymers into simpler compounds, reducing the emission of harmful particulate matter and other pollutants. This also mitigates the risks associated with microplastic pollution.
  3. Reduced Carbon Footprint of Carbon Black: The carbon black recovered through pyrolysis has a substantially smaller carbon footprint—approximately 2 tonnes CO2 equivalent less per tonne—compared to the production of virgin carbon black. This process also reduces particulate matter pollution by 34% and decreases fossil fuel dependence by 49%.
  4. Diversion of Waste Tyres from Landfills: Pyrolysis effectively diverts waste tyres from landfills, thus preventing the associated soil and water pollution. This contributes to a cleaner and healthier environment.
  5. Integration of Other Waste Streams: The pyrolysis process can incorporate additional waste streams, such as plastics and biomass, along with tyres. This integration further promotes the circular economy by maximising the reuse of various waste materials.
  6. Local Production of Pyrolysis Oil and Gas: Producing pyrolysis oil and gas locally reduces reliance on imported fossil fuels, enhancing energy security and supporting local economies.
  7. Enhanced ESG Goals for the Tyre Industry: Pyrolysis products exhibit superior social and environmental sustainability compared to other recycled tyre products. This advancement helps the tyre industry meet its Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals more effectively.

In summary, tyre pyrolysis emerges as a highly sustainable recycling method. It curtails fossil resource usage, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, reduces air pollution, and minimises waste directed to landfills. By promoting circularity and providing viable alternatives to conventional fossil fuels and materials, tyre pyrolysis sets a new benchmark for environmental responsibility and innovation in the recycling industry.

Q&A: Chemically Recycling Tyres into High-Quality Automotive Plastics

What companies are involved in the tyre recycling partnership?

Neste, Borealis, and Covestro have partnered to chemically recycle used tyres into high-quality plastics for automotive applications.

What is the process used to recycle tyres into plastics?

The process involves liquefying end-of-life tyres through chemical recycling, converting the liquid into base chemicals, and then further processing these chemicals into high-purity polycarbonates.

What are the applications of the recycled polycarbonates in the automotive industry?

Recycled polycarbonates can be used to manufacture various automotive parts, such as headlamps and radiator grilles.

How does this recycling method benefit the environment?

This method reduces the need for fossil resources and decreases greenhouse gas emissions by substituting pyrolysis oil for conventional fossil fuels. It also lowers particulate matter and pollutant emissions compared to tyre incineration and diverts waste tyres from landfills.

Are the recycled plastics of the same quality as virgin plastics?

Yes, the recycled plastics meet stringent quality standards, including paintability and crash safety requirements, making them suitable for use in vehicle components.

Which automotive manufacturer has incorporated components made from recycled plastic?

Mercedes-Benz has incorporated components made from this recycled plastic in their EQE and S-Class models, including bow door handles and crash absorbers.

What materials are used to manufacture these automotive components instead of raw fossil resources?

A combination of biomethane and pyrolysis oil from old tyres is used instead of raw fossil resources.

What future models will feature these sustainable materials?

Mercedes-Benz plans to progressively increase the use of this sustainable recycled material in forthcoming models such as the EQE SUV and EQS SUV.

How does chemical recycling complement mechanical recycling?

Chemical recycling complements mechanical recycling by providing a method to recycle materials that are difficult to process mechanically, thus maximising the reuse of recyclable scrap materials.

What are the key environmental benefits of using pyrolysis oil from recycled tyres?

  • Reduces fossil resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Lowers emissions of particulate matter and pollutants
  • Provides a smaller carbon footprint for recovered carbon black
  • Diverts waste tyres from landfills
  • Enables integration of other waste streams like plastics and biomass
  • Provides a local source of pyrolysis oil and gas
  • Enhances the tyre industry's ESG goals

Why is tyre pyrolysis considered an environmentally-friendly recycling method?

Tyre pyrolysis is environmentally friendly because it reduces fossil resource use, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and waste going to landfills, while promoting circularity and providing sustainable alternatives to conventional fossil fuels and materials.

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