Michelin talks tough on tyre usage

More the tyres you buy, better for the tyre manufacturer... Right? Wrong, as we found out



Dominique Aimon, VP, Technical and Scientific Comm, Michelin




So it’s common knowledge that you can’t run your car on stock tyres that came when you purchased it all its life unless you are into flipping cars. There is going to be at least one set of tyre replacements done in the life of your car and that’s when tyre manufacturers make the big bucks. You’d assume that faster the rubber shreds the better for a tyre manufacturer and most of your skeptical mind thinks that soft compound tyres are made by the satanic minds in these rubbery pits of fire who want to get rich real quick. Keeping aside the motorsport angle though where performance takes precedence over durability, building road tyres is all about sustainability and longevity, at least for Michelin.


We recently caught up with Dominique Aimon, Vice President, Technical and Scientific Communication, Michelin who elaborated on the need for Michelin to be a sustainable company with innovative strategies. And first on Dominique’s list of objectives was to harp around the fact Michelin isn’t looking to sell more tyres at the cost of affecting the environment. The think tank at Michelin are working on ways to prolong the life of a tyre and for that have come up with a 4R strategy where the ‘R’s stand for Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Renewable.



Michelin 4R Strategy




Quoting a 2013 report prepared by the International Transport Forum (ITF), Aimon said that the amount of kilometers travelled by 2050 is estimated to quadruple from 2010 figures. 75 percent of raw materials used to manufacture a tyre is still made of fossil fuels and so the amount of nonrenewable materials used in a tyre will put tyre companies under pressure if ITF’s numbers are on track. The first step as a result is to reduce the amount of materials used. Michelin is focusing on building lighter tyres and ones that last longer as durable materials will prolong the tyre replacement time. Tyre design is another focus for Michelin with the aim to make them more fuel efficient. This has led to designing low rolling resistance tyres and several generations of green tyres in the past decade. 


Reusing tyres is the second step of the 4R strategy. Although it isn’t used in the passenger tyre industry, large industrial tyres are repaired and reused by patch-fixing damaged sections. This saves a lot of material, cost and time. The interesting bit though is recycling tyres. Since only 25 percent of a tyre is built of natural rubber that is renewable, recycling a worn tyre can have massive control on wastage. Michelin is working with a few companies in Europe to extract quality regenerated powder from tyre granules that can be used as an ingredient in new tyres. Michelin is also working on extracting alcohol from used pre-treated tyres through a process of gasification and fermentation. It’s called the Bio Butterfly project, which in a few years time is expected to be a major contributor towards Michelin’s tyre production. 


This recyclable process merges with Michelin’s renewable energy plans. The French tyre company is exploring manufacture of Poly-isoprene, a natural polymer used in the manufacturing of tyres as part of its renewable energy initiative. Cumulatively, the 4Rs might mean Michelin sells fewer tyres in the near future but Aimon says that this gives them longevity as a tyre manufacturer and has lesser impact on the environment in the process.

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