Hitting The Road Again: How A Norwegian Company Is Helping To Recycle Tires

Each year, 29 million metric tonnes of End Of Life Tires (ELTs) are thrown away. In the U.K.alone,  46 million tires are taken off cars, vans and trucks annually. In the U.S., that figure rises to 290 million.

That wouldn’t matter if ELTs were biodegradable. But vehicle tires are a high volume product derived from a single-use petroleum resource, made from a complex blend of materials, including natural and synthetic rubber, fibre and wire. They often end up in landfill sites, leaving toxins that leach into the soil and local water tables. In some countries, landfill sites can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes to spread malaria and the Zika virus, an under-reported aspect of tire waste. The EU has banned the disposal of whole tires, but many countries now export to other countries with fewer restrictions. It’s a risky practice, and not just because of the toxins: tire dumps often catch fire.

For any car company pushing a green agenda, what to do with End of Life tires (ELTs) is an issue. How green is a car driving around on tires that can’t be reused?

According to the World Economic Forum, more than three million electric cars are on the roads, and sales are growing at close to 75% a year. Electric car manufacturers have come under the spotlight for using cobalt to make lithium ion batteries, which can be recycled, but the extraction has been linked to human rights abuses.

Tesla designs its batteries to outlive its cars and be re-usable – but it can’t design tires that will outlive its cars. Tesla owners’ forums say Tesla tires tend to wear out between 20 – 40,000 miles.

A solution may be on the horizon which would be welcome news for the electric vehicle industry. Today the Norwegian company Wastefront announces that it will be building its first £20-£30 million plant in the U.K. The location has yet to be confirmed, but here Wastefront will convert ELTs into carbon black and hydrocarbons. These can be used to make ground rubber and, ultimately, car tires, providing car manufacturers with the chance to improve their environmental footprint. They can also be used to generate energy.

“For many years, end-of-life tyres have represented a problem for which there have been no long-term solutions available that combine innovation with economic viability,” says Maria Moræus Hanssen, a veteran of the Scandinavian oil and gas industry whose appointment as Chair of the board of directors was also announced today.


Maria Moræus Hanssen, Chairperson of the Board

Why the U.K.? “An important element in bringing about circular economies and sustainable waste handling is to handle waste locally,” Hanssen replies. “The U.K. is a global centre of industry, which makes it an ideal location for our first plant, but we plan to expand across Europe as we evolve our technical solutions and the business.”

Wastefront was founded last year by Vegard Bringsjord and Christian A. Hvamstad, together with CEO Inge Berge, a co-founder of Quantafuel, which produces high-quality synthetic fuels and chemical products from non-recyclable plastics. The Norwegian state-owned company and national development bank, Innovation Norway, has funded a recent capital round for Wastefront.

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