5 Circular economy examples in the manufacturing industry
Manufacturers across sectors are investing in circularity for several reasons besides saving the environment. Learn 5 circular economy examples in this article.
There are various economic benefits to circularity, such as cost savings by reducing virgin resource extraction and increasing market share by attracting consumers interested in sustainable goods.
Moreover, circular manufacturing makes Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) compliance easier. Therefore, several industry leaders have adopted similar circular economy examples described in this article in their corporate strategy.
Circular economy examples in manufacturing
Manufacturers have an essential role in ushering in a circular economy by redesigning and using secondary materials produced from waste to prolong material life.
Waste diverted from landfills or burning in favour of reuse can close biological or technological cycles. But the method by which a manufacturer achieves circularity can be industry-specific.
Below are circular economy examples from the manufacturing sector.
1. Pulp-based refinery plant — Stora Enso Sunila Mill
Stora Enso Sunila Mill in Finland was the first in the world to extract lignin in a pulp-based refinery plant. The pulp and paper industry is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the world. It uses 12-15 per cent of the wood from forests, which could double by 2050, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
To make the most of the wood they use, Stora Enso Sunila Mill, which owns one of the largest private forests in the world, has adopted the circular economy by reusing, recycling, and recovering materials at the mill.
Stora Enso Sunila Mill sources their pulp production from new wood and sustainably managed private forests to make paper and packaging to replace plastic. They also produce circular industrial products that are alternatives to fossil fuel-based non-renewable products:
- Stora Enso extracts lignin from black liquor, the byproduct of kraft pulping. The company sells lignin and also makes several products from lignin, like carbon materials for electric automotive batteries and alternatives for fossil fuel-based phenols used in plywood glue and polyols in foams.
- The company recycles wood fibre from pulp waste at least 5-7 times and sometimes as much as 20 times.
- When no more fibre can be extracted, the pulp is used for energy recovery. Moreover, residual fly ash is used for making construction products.
The pulp industry is the fourth largest energy consumer and has a huge negative environmental impact. Stora Enso has primarily replaced heavy fossil fuel oil with lignin, sawdust powder, bark, renewable black liquor, and tree pitch oil. As a result, Stora Enso Sunila Mill hopes to reduce 50% of emissions from their operations by 2030.
2. Dutch startup — COCO Automotive
COCO Automotive was named one of the top 101 automotive startups in the Netherlands for trying to extend the lives of vehicles. They redesign and rebuild cars, replacing combustion engines in existing cars to turn them into electric vehicles.
When refurbishing a car, COCO Automotive reuses materials using the old car frame and other existing components. The refurbished car uses far fewer new materials and little energy when compared to manufacturing a brand-new car. This creates a low-impact alternative vehicle that eschews fossil fuels.
The high cost of new electric cars, which are more expensive than combustion cars, has been a significant barrier to mass adoption. COCO Automotive is providing a way for people to get an electric vehicle for less, speeding up the abilities of societies and countries to meet their climate goals.
3. Recycling plastics — Porsche and Circularise
Whole supply chain involvement in the circular economy is still infrequent, and it’s hard to ascertain claims of sustainability of material sources. Porsche has several suppliers and is interested in reducing plastics from raw materials during the final production phases to improve sustainability.
Circularise, a blockchain provider, teamed up with Porsche and its suppliers to develop another great circular economy example in the industry. The “Startup Autobahn innovation program” is intended to digitalise materials and create a thread through the supply chain. As part of this program, Circularise developed patented blockchain technology for the automotive sector, where each batch of material carries information on its origin and sustainability.
This makes it possible to track materials and provide transparency of their sustainability metrics like carbon footprint and water savings.
Porsche has been able to show that they use circular plastics, sourced from leading recyclers like Covestro, Borealis, and Domo Chemicals:
- Borealis recycles post-consumer plastic waste using chemcycling to produce circular plastic that is food-grade and virgin quality, useful for demanding applications.
- Domo Chemicals has a line of eco-friendly polyamides produced from recycling, which meet all the automotive sector’s technical requirements.
- Covestro has developed polycarbonate grades from post-consumer plastic waste like automotive lighting, water bottles, and CDs.
The partnership between Porsche and Circularise made collaboration in the supply chain transparent and showed that Porsche could produce demonstrably sustainable cars to satisfy stakeholders.
Moreover, tracking materials and parts helped the car producer make informed choices, enhancing the performance of future generations of production, supporting end-of-life recycling, and deepening participation in the circular economy.
4. Circularity in the tire manufacturing ecosystem
The number of end-of-life tires (ELTs) is increasing as more vehicles hit the roads each year.
Synthetic rubber, a major component in tires, is made of plastic polymers that don’t decompose quickly. ELTs are a growing global problem leading to pollution, carbon emissions, and health hazards.
The EU introduced a series of directives to reduce the negative environmental impact of the automotive sector. Some of its stipulations were adopting a circular economy, recycling/reusing a minimum of 85 per cent by weight per vehicle, and recovering at least 95 per cent by weight per vehicle.
Several leading tire manufacturers have responded by setting up individual initiatives, many of which focus on replacing fossil-fuel-based virgin Carbon Black (vCB), which constitutes about 21-22 per cent of tires. Tire manufacturers can use up to 20 per cent of rCB instead of vCB without loss functions, limiting carbon emissions and ensuring less use of fossil fuels.
Four such collaborations and initiatives that engage supply chains are discussed below:
- Michelin and Bridgestone presented their shared vision in November 2021 to make tires 100 per cent carbon neutral and sustainable by 2050. In the vision, the two companies focused on promoting the use of recovered Carbon Black (rCB) in the tire industry. The initiative addressed challenges like the absence of a global method to standardize rCB, new technologies, fragmented market, and recycling capacity.
- Orion, a global supplier of vCB, wants to replace fossil fuel feedstock with 100 per cent renewable material and has set a schedule of milestones to be achieved between 2025 to 2050. They have already released a high-reinforcing rCB.
- Nokian tires aim to make tires with 50 per cent of recycled or renewable raw materials by 2030. Their new concept green tire unveiled in 2022 has 93 per cent sustainable materials, including rCB, recycled steel belts and wires from ELTs, and natural rubber.
- Goodyear wants to source its raw materials sustainably. As part of the strategy, they’re increasing the amount of sustainably grown soybean oil sourced to substitute petroleum-derived oil to keep tires pliable. Goodyear wants to replace petroleum-derived oil completely from its tires by 2040.
5. Circular products recovered from ELTs — Contec S.A.
Contec is a circularity in manufacturing champion, another great circular economy example that can offer tire manufacturers sustainable raw materials. Based in Poland, we’re within a manufacturing centre providing materials and products for many industries like automotive, machines, and equipment.
Because of this, the country produces waste above the European average. According to a Circularity Gap Reporting Initiative report, Poland recycles only 10.2 per cent of waste back into production, so the manufacturing sector relies on virgin material for nearly 90 per cent of its production. The same report says Poland could double its circularity and reduce material consumption by 40 per cent and carbon emissions by half.
Using chemcycling, Contec transforms end-of-life tires (ELTs) into various reusable commodities like recovered Carbon Black, tire pyrolysis oil, and recovered steel.
Contec uses pyrolysis, a chemcycling method, for material recovery from ELTs. Pyrolysis involves heating shredded tire rubber at high temperatures in an oxygen-free inert environment. Instead of burning, the chemical bonds that hold the polymers in synthetic rubber break down into component chemicals.
This process can recover about 85 per cent of materials in ELTs in the form of Carbon Black (ConBlack), oil (ConPyro), and steel (ConWire). The remaining 15 per cent is recovered as gas that Contec uses as a renewable and circular energy source for 100 per cent operation of its two lines in the plant at Szczecin.
- ConBlack is a sustainable alternative to medium-grade virgin Carbon Blacks produced from fossil fuels. The tire industry, which uses 70 per cent of the material, is expected to be the primary consumer of the recovered Carbon Black. Other sectors that can use this circular product are rubber, paints, pigments, geomembranes, and plastic.
- ConPyro, rich in aromatic hydrocarbons, can be a circular fuel for ships or feedstock for producing fine-grade Carbon Black and plastics.
- ConWire, a high-quality steel, can be used for tires or any other industry that needs steel.
Contec strives not only to produce circular products but also to make its process as sustainable as possible.
Pyrolysis can recover 85 per cent of materials in ELTs and produces little toxic waste or emissions, making it the most environmentally friendly way of recycling tires. Contec has further improved the process by developing a patented process, which incorporates molten salts as a heat transfer system, to make the process safe for the environment and staff and produce consistently good quality products.
By using waste materials and avoiding fossil fuels as energy, Contec has managed to reduce the carbon footprint of its products drastically. The carbon footprint of recovered Carbon Black is only 439.17 kg CO2e/1t and is 80 per cent less than that of virgin Carbon Black. The carbon footprint for recovered pyrolysis oil is 399.75 kg CO2e/1t.
Contec is leading the movement towards a more circular economy in manufacturing and its process, energy generation, and innovative products. Contec can close the loop in tire production through its tire-to-tire model and help circular solutions in the automotive sector.
Get in touch to learn more about how our sustainable recycled solutions can help you join the circular economy manufacturing movement.
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Importance of the circular economy in manufacturing
The circular economy is crucial to a more sustainable economy with manufacturing at the centerpiece of the narrative.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) states that the demand for materials and energy has continued to increase. This is because developed countries improve their living conditions, look to support their expanding populations, and grow their economies. In response, the manufacturing sector’s raw material needs are expected to double by 2050 to 180 billion tons.
According to the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), a circular economy in manufacturing can be achieved by 2030 through the use of disruptive business models and technologies that will improve resource productivity by 30 per cent. Using secondary materials will secure raw materials supply and reduce import dependency and vulnerability to price volatility.
Developing a circular economy in manufacturing would make it less necessary to extract new resources. This would result in biodiversity protection, reduced pollution, less marine littering, and mitigation of climate change. The EPRS also predicts that circularity in manufacturing can create two million jobs in the EU and increase the GDP by 0.8 per cent.
In this article, we’ll see how the manufacturing industry can adopt more circular practices and become more sustainable in the process.
What are the circular economy principles?
The circular economy aims to reduce material use by preventing losses in the product lifecycle. It focuses on integrating end-of-life products to close technological and biological cycles in production and consumption, thereby keeping materials in circulation longer.
Circular economy manufacturing can contribute to a sustainable future by decoupling growth from environmental degradation and resource depletion while providing socioeconomic benefits. It uses secondary materials from end-of-life products or by-products instead of raw materials, reducing waste accumulation and extraction of new resources.
Manufacturers find reducing waste by going circular attractive. Because waste disposal is costly in several regions, like the EU, due to regulations. The circular model is an alternative to the traditional ‘take-make-consume-throw’ method of manufacturing and consumption, which leads to the over-exploitation of natural resources. Manufacturing by continuing these practices may be cheaper at present but isn’t viable in the long term. Moreover, the growing mountains of waste cause pollution and impact the climate.
Four circular economy principles can usher in a change in manufacturing by minimising waste. They are: Reduce, Refurbish/Reuse, Recycle, and Recover.
Figure 1: Circular manufacturing creates value sustainably by designing new durable products from secondary materials obtained from waste by following the 4Rs. United Nations Industrial Development Agency
What are the 4Rs in circular manufacturing?
The 4Rs in circular manufacturing are derived from the general waste management hierarchy that aims to reduce environmental impact and increase materials’ long-term value retention.
Application of the 4Rs starts by rethinking product design to integrate secondary materials in environmentally friendly production processes along with efficient waste management. The relevance and application of each of the 4Rs will vary and is industry-specific.
Reducing material use is the first step, where the quantity of materials per production unit is lowered. According to Morseletto (2019), innovative design can increase manufacturing efficiency and reduce material consumption. Reducing materials can limit resource extraction and generation of waste at the end of the product’s lifecycle. The global material footprint needs to decrease by 80 per cent by 2050, according to Morseletto. Targets can be set for each material or energy type.
A PwC report found that in Germany, materials form 45 per cent of production costs and energy less than 5 per cent. However, limiting energy use is crucial if the source is fossil-fuel based. Several examples can demonstrate how manufacturing can reduce consumption and become sustainable.
The most striking example is the reduction of materials used for packaging.
Reuse is the second use of a product or part that is in good condition and fully functional to produce new products. The old product is used for the original function, and reusing can extend the product’s lifespan and limit the production of new items. Refurbishing restores a product or components to upgrade or modernise it to achieve the desired quality and performance, according to Morseletto.
The PwC report considers reusing and refurbishing to have a potentially huge, and complex, impact on manufacturing. Reusing/refurbishing on a large scale will require consumer cooperation and changes to the supply chain, like reverse logistics and capacity building, to collect the used product. Disassembly, storage sites, and reintegration of parts will also need planning and further infrastructure.
An example of refurbishing is converting a combustion car to an electric one by changing the engine.
Recycling involves converting end-of-life products or their parts into new secondary materials. It reduces waste, and the secondary materials are used to manufacture new original products in a closed-loop system or used in other industry sectors in an open-loop system.
Recycling is a fast-developing field in the world. It can have negative environmental impacts as the process involves transportation and energy use. Also, recycling composite materials can be challenging. Recycling is less complex than reusing and refurbishing. And it is fast becoming a valuable method of achieving sustainability when used to close the loop in manufacturing the same product.
According to Morseletto, countries like China, Japan, and Korea want to recycle 85 to 95 per cent of automotive parts, and the EU wants at least 85 per cent recycled or reused parts by weight in a vehicle.
Contec’s pyrolysis process of using chemcycling to turn end-of-life tires into valuable materials that can be used to make new tires, like recovered Carbon Black, oil, and steel, is a great example of recycling.
After exhausting all other possibilities for reducing waste, manufacturers can recover energy from the manufacturing process by incinerating end-of-life products. Recovery has the disadvantage of destroying the materials and requires abundant and cheap waste to be feasible.
Incinerating mixed plastic waste is a typical form of energy recovery since some kinds of plastic are challenging to recycle or reuse.
Why adopt the circular economy in manufacturing?
The top reasons to adopt the circular economy in manufacturing are cost savings, increased sales, gaining a competitive edge, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) compliance.
1. Cost savings
The resource reduction immediately translates into cost savings, regardless of which circularity principle a company uses. A manufacturer can save up to 60 per cent of the total material costs by reusing or refurbishing products, according to the PwC report.
According to EPRS,
- EU companies can anticipate 12 to 23 per cent of savings in their material cost. For the regional economy, that is an annual savings worth €250 to €465 billion.
- Using secondary raw materials instead of primary raw materials can result in 20-90 per cent energy savings and considerable water savings. Both are huge wins for the environment and society.
2. Creates additional value
Consumer awareness of the negative impact of manufacturing and fast consumption is increasing. So any circular product that can prove its sustainability through reputable ecological certification and labels gets a competitive edge. It can help companies reach and retain new market segments.
A 2021 Business Wire report says that a third of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. The younger millennials and the Z-generation, whose segment of the economy is increasing, are willing to pay double that of older generations.
An average of 60 per cent of consumers consider sustainability a criterion for choosing a product. The preference is industry-specific and varies from 44 per cent for financial services, 61 per cent for automotive, and 74 per cent for energy utilities.
Sustainability is fast becoming an expectation, not an exception, according to Business Wire, and any company that is not sustainable risks losing its market segment.
3. ESG compliance
Countries worldwide are making ESG compliance stricter, and regulations require detailed information from companies.
Many companies fail to meet these obligations because they either assign ESG compliance to a separate department or each department has different policies. Instead of this silo method, using a holistic approach where sustainable circular economy principles are integrated into the business model can help. This will empower companies to be aware of their industry-specific environmental impact.
Circular business principles will be able to guide corporate governance and provide the necessary detailed information. Because ecological protection and social concerns are central to the manufacturing process.
Contec’s contribution to the circular economy
Contec uses circular economy principles in its production process. We tackle a major global waste problem created by landfilling or piling end-of-life tires (ELTs) by recycling them into new products.
Contec collects ELTs and shreds the tires to produce rubber granulates that can be used for rubber production, civil engineering, and pyrolysis. Using pyrolysis, a patented chemcycling process, Contec recycles 85 per cent of the ELTs it collects to produce recovered Carbon Black (ConBlack), recovered oil (ConPyro), and recovered steel (ConWire).
The remaining 15 per cent of ELTs provides gas that Contec uses to power the pyrolysis process as an alternative to fossil fuel energy.
- ConBlack is a medium-grade Carbon black that can be a sustainable alternative for virgin Carbon Black (vCB) produced from fossil fuels and would allow several industries to close their material loop. The primary sector is tire manufacturing for the automotive industry, which wants to make circular cars. The other sectors are chemical, plastic, and rubber manufacturing.
- ConPyro is a high-quality oil with 70 per cent of aromatic hydrocarbons and is 40 per cent biological in origin since truck tires use a high proportion of natural rubber. The oil can produce fine-grade vCB for tire and plastic manufacturing.
- ConWire is a high-quality steel cord and wire in the tires, 95 per cent of which is removed before pyrolysis and the rest after.
In the current situation, the manufacturing sector is expected to cut fossil fuel use due to supply disruptions and high prices. Contec’s products can support manufacturers in driving circularity and providing low-impact environmental-friendly commodities to replace carbon-intensive products.
Get in touch to learn more about our sustainable solutions.
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On the rise: The price of carbon black isn’t sustainable
In 2022, several chemical manufacturers announced an increase in the price of Carbon Black in Europe and the Americas. The price increase resulted from a strong demand for the product and the high cost of manufacturing and transportation, both of which rely on fossil fuels.
The prices for petroleum products continue to be volatile due to supply chain disruptions that started during the pandemic and have worsened since the war in Europe. The automotive industry, already under pressure to decarbonise, now urgently seek more sustainable options that are environmentally friendly and a reliable source of Carbon Black.
Circular solutions: recovered Carbon Black and more
Other options for virgin Carbon Black (vCB), and the technologies to produce them, already exist. Pyrolysis of end-of-life tires (ELTs) uses waste tires as feedstock for thermo-chemical reactions to recover component materials—carbon char, gas, oil, and steel. The carbon char is refined further to produce recovered Carbon Black (rCB).
rCB has properties similar to several semi-reinforcing grades of Carbon Black. The rCB properties will, however, depend on the source and mixture of car and truck tires used as feedstock and the type of pyrolysis.
Consequently, the quality of rCB differs from producer to producer. Though no rCB is a 1:1 replacement for any vCB grade, they can be used instead of semi-reinforcing vCB grades, like N660.
Because waste tires, rather than fossil fuels, are used to produce rCBs, each tonne of rCB has over 80 per cent smaller carbon footprint than vCB and produces no air pollutants. Each tonne of rCB produced saves 1.5 tonnes of fossil fuels and vast amounts of water, leading to significant environmental protection and lowering carbon emissions.
By switching to rCBs, tire manufacturers can avoid the fluctuations in the price of virgin Carbon Black, be assured of a reliable, long-term, local supply, and reduce dependence on other countries.
Local rCB production based on tire recycling will improve sustainability by creating local jobs, following inshoring trend in the manufacturing industry.
Price of Virgin Carbon Black vs. Recovered Carbon Black
World events and demands have seen the price of a tonne of vCB reaching upwards to US$2,645 in North America in 2022. These prices are significantly higher than the previous year.
In the case of rCB, the price varies depending on the quality. But, as rCB is a new product, the prices of rCB are around 15 – 30 per cent lower than vCB to get over the entry barrier. Industry leaders expect that rCBs sustainability and positive environmental record compared to vCB will reduce the entry barrier and add sustainability premium on top.
During next few years, it’s not possible to produce enough rCB to replace vCBs. So the demand for rCB is and will remain more than the supply and keep its price on par or even higher than vCBs; this price development is likely to take several years.
Many leading manufacturers in the tire industry, which consumes 70 per cent of vCB, are setting targets to reduce emissions and increase circularity by including recycled materials in their products.
The demand for rCB is there; the problem is more one of supply.
The Recovered Carbon Black Market
The rCB market may be nascent, but it’s growing at a healthy rate.
Estimates of the global market size vary, and according to Business Wire, in 2021, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11 per cent to reach a worth US$8,760.62 million by 2028.
According to Grand View Research, the demand for rCB is driven mainly by tire manufacturing, which used 71.4 per cent of the rCB produced in 2019. However, other industries traditionally using vCB grades are also turning to rCB.
Rubber production for the automotive, mechanical, construction, and pharmaceutical industries is the second largest consumer of rCB. Products range from rubber sheets, seals, and roofing material to gaskets, hoses, and conveyor belts.
The high-performance coatings industry also uses rCB to enhance the aesthetic and protective value of their coatings meant for the automotive and aerospace industries.
In 2019, the USA was the major consumer of rCB with a 38 per cent market share. The expansion of production has increased mainly due to recycling programs initiated by manufacturers. Europe is the second largest consumer of rCB, with a predicted CAGR of 31.8 per cent between 2020 to 2027.
The automotive and high-performance coatings industries have driven the demand so far. The Asia-Pacific region is the third largest market, with a share of 26.7 per cent.
Current challenges in the rCB Market
Every year, nearly 20 million tonnes of vCB are produced. One tonne of ELTs can produce 300 kg of rCB. However, the industry has to overcome several challenges to meet the present and future demands for rCB, for example:
- Developing industry standards
Due to the difference in technology, tire source, and mixture, the rCB quality varies widely. Moreover, according to the Grand View Research, rCB from different countries differs as the tire composition is different.
The rCB industry needs quality standards and testing procedures to meet consumer satisfaction. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International workgroup 36 has been working on the task since 2017.
Contec is joining the workgroup to participate and provide input for this crucial task. Ultimately, two to three levels of quality are required to define Carbon Black specifications for manufacturing different products.
- Scaling-up production
Though the pyrolysis technique has been established as a good source of rCB, in Europe, less than five per cent of ELTs are recycled through pyrolysis.
There are very few plants, and they can’t produce enough rCB to meet even current demands. Currently, there are many pilot projects which are not industrial scale. Each plant will have to deliver up to 20,000 tonnes of rCB annually to move to the industrial phase.
Contec plans to deliver at least 10,000 tonnes annually. Only a few plants of this size, distributed strategically, would be enough to cover half of Poland’s ELT recycling needs.
- Quality technology
An appropriate pyrolysis technology has to be used to supply rCB of consistent quality in required quantities.
Several types of pyrolysis exist; many cannot produce consistently good quality rCB and suffer from a poor safety record. Contec has incorporated molten salts into the pyrolysis process and can produce consistently high-quality rCB.
The protected Contec process is safer to operate, and has a low environmental impact and carbon footprint.
- Securing funding
To take advantage of the existing momentum, rCB manufacturers must find and leverage funding opportunities to cover costs and build capacity to provide long-term strategies.
Contec has obtained timely funds and support from the Warsaw Equity Group to develop a novel pyrolysis method. Leveraging the funds, experience, and knowledge given by Warsaw Equity Group, Contec has started plant in Poland and is now one of less than ten European companies that offer pyrolysis for ELT recycling.
- Build collaborations
The rCB manufacturers can’t operate in isolation.
However, there is help at hand. In 2020, the automotive industry started the global Circular Car Initiative to encourage collaborations between stakeholders and increase circularity by closing loops and seeking policy changes.
Then there is the RCB Rubber initiative by tire manufacturers with the same aim. rCB manufacturers can leverage these forums to adopt a value approach across the entire value chain. They must also build collaborations to optimise inbound and outbound logistics.
The European Commission revised the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) to include road transport. It’s part of the EU’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 as part of the Green Deal.
The new emissions trading system (ETS 2) can be instrumental in decarbonising vehicles and components if used to supplement existing policies.
- Quality and Stable rCB Production
Achieving sustainability in the tire industry is essential and is needed now.
The industry has to find sources to meet the demand for consistent, high-quality rCB in sufficient volumes for tires that ensure the safety of passengers.
Contec can help here. Contec’s pyrolysis process uses patented innovations like molten salts to solve many of the problems in pyrolysis, produces top-quality rCB consistently, and has an excellent safety record.
The company runs two plants in Poland and is seeking to expand operations. Get in touch to learn more about our sustainable solutions.
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Carbon black alternative: Sustainable industrial opportunities and use cases
The tire industry is a major consumer of Carbon Black, using 70 per cent of the material.
The disruptions to Carbon Black supply chains, rising costs of the typical feedstock fossil fuels for producing Carbon Black, sustainability regulations, and stakeholder pressure have industry leaders concerned about the future of Carbon Black.
Luckily, there are sustainable options like a Carbon Black alternative, not as a direct replacement but with similar properties to Carbon Black, available on the market. In this article, you will learn about recovered Carbon Black as a sustainable option for several industries and use cases.
Types of Carbon Black
Carbon Black is a synthetic material made of 98 per cent carbon. Petroleum oil, gas, and coal tar are the common raw ingredients used to produce virgin Carbon Black (vCB) by burning the feedstocks at very high temperatures in reactors to vaporise the carbon. After cooling, the result is a paracrystalline spherical substance available as a powder.
Different manufacturing processes and feedstocks produce varying particle sizes, surface area, and aggregate structure, which define the properties of the vCB. So there are many grades of Carbon Black.
Tire manufacturing uses most vCB grades to stabilise and strengthen rubber products, such as tire treads, sidewalls, tubes, belts, and carcasses:
- Grades with smaller particles, such as N110, N220, and N234, have high reinforcing, abrasion resistance, and tear strength. These grades are used as reinforcing filler materials to make rubber elastomers that form tread.
- Medium to high reinforcing grades like N330, N339, and N550 are found in treads, inner liners, carcasses, and sidewalls.
- Medium reinforcing vCB grades like N660 and N770 have low heat build-up and prevent tire deformation. They’re suitable for sidewalls, inner liners, and sealing rings.
- Low reinforcing vCBs with high loading capacity and elongation are suitable for inner liners and belts.
- Carbon Black is also a pigment that colors the tires black. It also protects the tires from the harmful effects of ultra-violet (UV) light and ozone to extend tire lifespan.
The cumulative effect of vCBs makes tires safer and more durable for driving. There are 21.5 per cent and 22 per cent of vCBs in passenger and truck tires.
The use of fossil fuels to provide feedstock and energy for the manufacture of vCBs has increasingly become an image and compliance issue for the tire industry. Moreover, each ton of vCB produces around 3 tonnes of greenhouse emissions.
Recovered Carbon Black: a sustainable option
The tire industry needs new Carbon Black options that are sustainable to avoid the environmental problems created by vCB manufacturing and meet consumer demands for green products.
Recovered Carbon Black (rCB) can be a sustainable alternative to vCBs. Instead of new fossil fuels, rCB production uses end-of-life tires (ELTs) as feedstock in pyrolysis.
However, rCB is not a 1:1 replacement for any particular vCB grade.
rCB is a new, unique grade with its own set of properties. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International workgroup 36, set up in 2017, is still developing quality standards for rCB.
The properties of rCB reflect the mix of passenger and truck ELTs used in pyrolysis. It’s close in its properties to N660 because this grade is found in significant quantities in tires of all vehicles. However, minor amounts of high reinforcing vCB grades found in tire components will also be part of rCB. Moreover, the chemicals in the waste tires will also make their way into the rCB affecting its properties.
rCB is a sustainable Carbon Black option because of its small carbon footprint and circularity. The manufacturing process of Contec rCB produces 2 tonnes fewer carbon emissions than vCBs. Whereas vCB requires 2 tonnes of sulphur-rich fossil fuels, 1 tonne of rCB can be made from just three ELTs.
Tire producers can solve their waste problems and use recycled materials in their tires to meet requirements set by the EU End-of-life Vehicles Directive by using pyrolytic products.
Pyrolysis at Contec
There are around 20 to 30 types of pyrolysis processes, but not all are created equal.
Conventional pyrolysis systems can’t guarantee consistency in the quality of rCB. Contec has improved the pyrolysis process with several innovations to make rCB of a consistent quality that meets stringent industry requirements.
The Contec pyrolysis process, which is a continuous type, can guarantee a high-quality Carbon Black option due to multiple strategies in the various stages of the process:
- The company has its own collection system to ensure that the ELTs are clean.
- The process uses a fixed mix of truck and passenger tires to maintain product consistency with 15 per cent of truck tires.
- Contec uses best-in-class industry shredder machines to shred the tires to get even small rubber granulates and remove steel to improve processing.
- Contec is the only rCB producer to use molten salts as a heat transfer medium to provide even, controlled heating of the tire scrap.
- A rotating auger makes sure that the waste tires have a similar residency time, which further improves quality. The uniform heating and residence time are responsible for the high and consistent quality of Contec’s rCB.
- Contec has a strict protocol of checking the plant before and during the operation to ensure there are no pressure buildups or gas leaks to prevent explosions and fire hazards.
- There is strict and continuous monitoring of the temperature and heating of molten salts, with a single switch control to quickly stop the process.
- Quality control is part of the process. The measures include sampling every 1-3 hours to check the operation and onsite-laboratory testing to ensure product quality.
- Finally, the rCB is milled to get the recommended size and later pelletized to produce 0.5 to 1 mm pellets that make handling easy and pollution-free.
- The pyrolysis process that Contec uses recovers 85 per cent of materials and produces only 439 KgCO2e/1 tonne of rCB.
So what is pyrolysis? It’s a thermo-chemical process, and the technique is several decades old. But its application to recycle tire waste to recover materials is new.
The tire rubber is separated from other components like steel, wires, and fabrics as part of the process. The shredded tires are then sent into a reactor, where Contec uses temperatures up to 510oC in an oxygen-free atmosphere to decompose the complex polymers in tires into simpler components.
The pyrolytic products of commercial interest are recovered gas, oil, Carbon Black, and steel.
Common recovered products from ELTs
Each of these four recovered products has a place in the tire industry’s circular economy.
- Recovered Carbon Black — Contec’s ‘ConBlack’ is a Carbon Black sustainable option. It can replace up to 30 per cent of semi-reinforcing vCBs, such as N550 and N660, to make new tires. These can produce inner liners, sidewalls, sealing rings, heavy-duty conveyors and transmission belts, and hoses. It can replace vCB up to 100 per cent for UV protection and produce non-tire items like rubber sheeting, roofing, cables, geomembranes, pigments, paints, and plastic items.
- Recovered gas — Gas is one of the first products formed in pyrolysis. Part of it condenses into liquids during cooling, but one part remains as gas. Contec has achieved fuel self-sufficiency using its recovered gas as fuel for heating the plant.
- Recovered Oil — Contec’s ‘ConPyro’ is the oil after refining and can equal virgin fossil fuels in quality. These sulphur and aromatic hydrocarbon-rich end-of-life tires derived pyrolysis oil (TDO) can replace fossil-based oil as feedstocks to produce high reinforcing vCBs. These vCBs can further increase the proportion of recovered materials in tires.
- Recovered steel — Contec’s ‘ConWire’ is retrieved before and after pyrolysis and can also be used again for producing new tires without loss of quality.
The tire industry is considering various options, including biological materials and recycled products, to replace fossil fuel feedstocks to produce Carbon Black alternatives.
Contec’s ‘ConBlack’, using ELTs as feedstock, can be a sustainable and circular Carbon Black option to traditional vCB because of its various proven uses and applications. Get in touch to learn more about our sustainable solutions.
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The results are in: Contec’s carbon emissions impact
Developing sustainable technology and collaboration both have a positive impact on the environment.
It’s important to us at Contec that, in our journey of promoting and driving circularity, we can measure our environmental impact in detail and be transparent about our carbon footprint.
Contec strives to accelerate the transformation of the manufacturing industry towards carbon neutrality while providing high-quality and consistent products to partners. By committing ourselves to sustainability, we can help our partners on their sustainability journeys, too.
Certification of products by a high-profile accounting system elicits partner to trust by giving a third-party recommendation.
Therefore, we had the Climate Strategies Poland Foundation calculate the life-cycle emissions of two of our ELT pyrolysis products using the global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol. This article covers the highlights from the carbon emissions impact report.
Review the report as a PDF.
What is the Greenhouse Gas Protocol?
The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) protocol was created by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in the late 1990s, to provide an international standard for corporations to measure and report their carbon emissions.
Nearly 90 per cent of emissions accounting and reporting programs used by governments and corporations are based on the GHG protocol, as it’s globally accepted and provides a standardised means of comparison.
In the past, corporations focused only on emissions from their own operations. To allow corporations to measure the emissions of their products and services across the entire value chain, WRI, and WBCSD designed the Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard in 2011.
This new tool responds to customer demand to know the complete environmental impact of a product.
Contec’s product carbon footprint
The Climate Strategies Poland Foundation calculated Contec’s product life cycle carbon emissions from July 2021 to January 2022. This cradle-to-gate calculation included the production process and distribution. We had the product carbon footprint (PCF) of pyrolytic oil and recovered Carbon Black (rCB) estimated according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.
The carbon footprint measurement included all the gases listed in the GHG Protocol Product Standard—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, nitrogen trifluoride, perfluorocarbons, and hydrofluorocarbons.
The boundary for estimating PCF, considering all inputs and outputs, was described for the following three stages:
1. Raw material acquisition and preprocessing
This phase includes emissions from extraction, preprocessing, and transporting material to the production site. The end-of-life tires (ELTs) used to produce pyrolytic oil and recovered Carbon Black are not raw materials but waste. So, only emissions from transporting ELTs to Contec are included, not emissions from tire production. Emissions from producing other materials like gloves, reagents, etc., are also covered.
2. Production stage
Emissions from utilities consumed during production and the treatment and transportation of waste produced during the process are included in this phase. Utilities considered are electricity, pyrolytic gas, propane (LPG), diesel, and wastewater production. Waste from the pyrolysis processes that can be further recycled, like steel and textiles, or used for incineration, like filter materials, are not considered.
3. Distribution and storage
Emissions generated during transportation to customers’ gates are part of this phase. Contec transported pyrolytic oil to two customers for 250 km and 800 km, respectively. Recovered Carbon Black was transported 375 km.
The certificate reports the carbon emissions from producing one ton of pyrolytic oil and recovered Carbon Black and their distribution to customers. Those results are highlighted below:
Pyrolytic Oil Carbon Footprint
Table 1: Carbon footprint of pyrolytic oil (without distribution to customers)
The acquisition of raw materials and the production of pyrolytic oil resulted in 399.75 kg CO2e/1t of emissions. Utility consumption of propane and pyrolytic gas during production accounts for the most emissions (81.87%), as shown in Table 1.
Distribution emissions depend on the distance to the customer.
- For Customer 1 (250 km away), it is 42.01 kg CO2e/1t.
- For Customer 2 (800 km), it is 119.42 kg CO2e/1t.
Recovered Carbon Black Footprint
Table 2: Carbon footprint of recovered Carbon Black (without distribution to customers)
The carbon footprint of material acquisition, preprocessing, and production for rCB is 439.17 kg CO2e/1t. Again, LPG and pyrolytic gas consumption during production account for the highest emissions (81.80%), as shown in Table 2. The carbon footprint of transporting to customer 1 (375 km away) is 55.98 kg CO2e/1t.
Driving sustainability at Contec
Contec’s holistic approach—such as sourcing ELTs from neighbouring areas, optimising the production process, reducing raw materials consumption, and using renewable energy—makes our products more eco-friendly.
Contec uses electricity from 100% renewable sources—solar and wind—which lowers production emissions. If Contec had used the average Polish electricity mix, the carbon footprint of both products would be an additional 127% higher. This would increase the carbon footprint of pyrolytic oil to 907.67 kg CO2e/1t, and increase to 996.65 kg CO2e/1t for rCB.
Contec is proud to announce that it has reduced the carbon footprint of its two products, and manufacturers sourcing Contec products will benefit from our journey toward sustainability.
Get in touch to learn more about our sustainable solutions.
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Contec wins the Gold Award at the ESG Leaders Prize
The newly introduced ESG Leaders prize by PwC Poland, Warsaw Stock Exchange, and NN Investment Partners TFI has announced its first set of winners for 2021. The prizes were awarded to 9 companies, while almost 100 companies and 20 people were nominated.
The award for an Industrial Strategy, Innovation, and Educational Program as ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) acknowledges the relevance of the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals for environmental and social rights protection and corporate governance in doing business.
We’re proud to be a winner of the ESG Leaders 2021 competition and selected for the ‘Gold Award’ for Innovation in the field of ESG!
Gold Award in Innovation
The ESG Leaders prize was awarded to nine companies. And Contec received the ESG Leaders 2021 golden award for ‘Innovation in the field of ESG.’
Contec won the prize for its innovation and implementation of a novel patented pyrolysis process, which helps clean and eco-friendly disposal of end-of-life tire waste.
Our pilot plant in Szczecin operates two pyrolysis lines and can recycle almost 100 percent of the tire waste, to produce recovered Carbon Black (rCB), recovered Tire Pyrolysis Oil, and Recovered Steel.
These Contec circular products can be alternatives to several fossil-fuel-based raw materials, like Carbon Black, whose prices are increasing due to the current geopolitics. Contec’s rCB can be a sustainable option for semi-reinforcing virgin Carbon Black (vCB), while recovered Tire Pyrolysis Oil can produce high-reinforcing vCBs. Moreover, the protected pyrolysis technology has significantly reduced the carbon footprint of these secondary materials compared to conventional raw materials.
Since Carbon Black is essential in making tires, using Contec’s secondary products can help the tire industry achieve its sustainability and emission-reduction goals.
Speaking about the ESG award, Contec CEO, Krzysztof Wróblewski said,
“This award is another shot of motivation to make a difference in the world and to solve two problems. The first problem we face is the abundance of used car tires both in Europe and the world, which we have to deal with; the second one is also the lack of environmentally-responsible raw materials that other companies could, in turn, use in their production.
We want to provide companies with these raw materials – to be precise, from used tires. It seems to us that we need to build responsibility at all scales. The big companies, of course, have a significant impact. But we, by developing these technologies that aren’t yet on the market, are providing these more prominent players with the tools to turn waste into raw materials.”
About the Prize
The ESG Leaders competition was created to reward companies whose ESG approach resulted in innovative products and services with little or no negative environmental impact. These companies have also promoted sustainable industrial development through an effective information campaign.
Awards were given in three categories: Strategy, Innovation, and Educational Program. One hundred companies and 20 individuals were nominated for the prize. Besides Contec, eight other companies got the award. The competition jury for the prizes were experts in ESG, science, financial markets, and business.
The competition was organized by NN Investment Partners (PwC, TFI, and GPW) and partners of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, UN Global Compact Network Poland, Polish Association of Capital Investors, Polish Bank Association, and Łukasiewicz Research Network.
Companies with more than 250 employees will have to report their ESG starting in 2023. The prize highlights that industries are taking their sustainability commitment seriously, and forward-thinking companies are taking proactive actions. The competition shows that leaders in sustainable development can be small and large enterprises.
Contec’s sustainable products can help not only the tire industry but also the wider plastics sector reach its aim of producing sustainable, low-carbon products. To this end, we continue collaborating with partners and boosting innovation in the industry.
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