Roughly one billion tires are removed from vehicles annually, creating around 13.5 million tons of solid waste. Waste tires, also known as ‘End-of-Life Tires’ (ELTs) contain a significant amount of valuable high quality carbon black, typically between 20 and 25% of the total mass. The standard way of producing black carbon is very polluting, but it has a high surface-area-to-volume ratio, which makes black carbon widely applied as a reinforcing filler in tyres and other products. Around 60% of the produced carbon black is used for tyre production, the remainder in technical rubbers, but also as pigments in paint, plastic and ink.
“Tens of millions of tires are burned annually, wasting massive amounts of valuable carbon black. Petroleum is used for the production of new carbon black. Black Bear thought of something smart.”
- Martijn Lopez Cardoso, CEO, Black Bear Carbon
Black Bear has developed a highly innovative process enabling the recovery of high quality carbon black from waste tires, thereby providing a sustainable solution for a problematic waste stream and preventing pollution related to the production of furnace carbon black. Black Bear offers a commercially attractive proposition given its high quality and lower production costs compared to furnace carbon black.
As a young, innovative organisation in a conservative industry, Black Bear experiences several challenges in implementing a circular business model. In the first place, although many potential customers are keen on adopting a green alternative, it takes dedication and perseverance to move through the lengthy approval procedures in large and established organisations. We have found that building a trusted brand and sharing (independent) test results have been key drivers for success.
Secondly, many circular business models require significant funding. In our case, moving to commercial scale required a €10m investment in plant construction. We have found the process of attracting investors rewarding, yet very time intensive. A key takeaway is to present an excellent business case, with circularity as a bonus.
Finally, Black Bear sees constraints in current regulations. The assumptions of the current regulation are still based on the old linear thinking and tries to protect society from the “evils of waste”. We have to rely on governments to change these regulations, creating a more favourable regulatory climate, but this will take time and pioneers to lead the way.
Carbon black, when successfully retrieved from waste tires, may be re-used as an equally acceptable replacement for virgin furnace carbon blacks. Applying this circular business model has great advantages for companies active in tire processing and rubber manufacturing by reducing waste processing costs, use of and expenditure on resources and by drastically reducing negative environmental impacts.
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