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BlackCycle project aims to advance circular economy by making new tires from end-of-life tires

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There was excitement at the BIR Tires & Rubber Committee webinar following a guest presentation on the recycling of end-of-life tires (ELTs) into secondary raw materials for tires and other product applications.  

The Committee's Chairman Max Craipeau of Greencore Resources said the BlackCycle research project co-ordinated by major producer Michelin had the potential to "revolutionize" ELT recycling at a time when the key crumb rubber market was under severe threat. If successful, it could mean that, in five to six years from now, around half of Europe's ELTs would be incorporated as secondary raw materials into new tires, he added.

According to Michaël Cogne, research program manager for BlackCycle at Michelin, the project had started earlier this year and was relying on a multi-pronged approach, including mechanical methods to deconstruct tires so as to gather different clusters of materials as input for pyrolysis in order to achieve specific outputs. The intention was also to address recovered carbon black and pyrolytic oil in parallel "to find the best way to valorize everything to a good level of performance." Chemical competencies would be used to refine oils to create a desirable feedstock for the manufacture of carbon black, he added.

Craipeau particularly welcomed the fact that current elements of the ELT recycling chain - such as collectors, granulators and tyre deconstructors - would "still have a major role to play in the industry as providers of added-value feedstock." This would apply even to small and medium-sized recyclers, enabling them to continue to use existing equipment.

Webinar panellist Martin von Wolfersdorff, a carbon black and recovered carbon black expert at Wolfersdorff Consulting of Berlin, praised the BlackCycle recycling objectives as exceeding Michelin's initial Vision 2048 goals. He estimated a recovered carbon black production of around 400,000 tonnes per annum and a sustainable carbon black production of some 80,000 tonnes per annum by 2030 if every second European tire were recycled in the BlackCycle system. 

The webinar participants acknowledged that the emergence of this potentially huge outlet for ELTs was particularly well-timed given the regulatory storm clouds currently gathering over the main outlet for crumb rubber use as infill for sports pitches, a topic discussed in greater depth at the BIR Tires & Rubber Committee's eForum in June this year. Speaking at the webinar, Craipeau expressed the fear that a ban on infill "is on its way."

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