Nature and Biodiversity

How we can decarbonize the tyre industry for a sustainable future

A pile of tyres, illustrating the vast size of the tyre industry

The tyre industry must drive net-zero initiatives Image: Photo by Imthaz Ahamed on Unsplash

Neeraj Kanwar
Vice-Chairman and Managing Director, Apollo Tyres
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The tyre industry has a key role to play in steering towards a low-carbon transportation pathway.
  • Research and development can spearhead a dual-pronged approach in addressing end-of-life tyre circularity.
  • The tyre industry must look at all aspects of the emission value chain, from raw material sourcing to the product's use phase, while navigating the roadmap to decarbonization.

The need to address the climate crisis is an unavoidable imperative and the tyre industry can take the lead in embracing a sustainable way of working.

The climate crisis has reached unprecedented levels and a comprehensive commitment to its eradication remains elusive. The surge in greenhouse gas emissions has accelerated climate change beyond our previous estimations. Effectively reversing this trajectory, which is necessary to meet the agreed-upon target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C under the Paris Agreement, has evolved into an exceptionally daunting challenge.

Notably, the year 2023 marked the warmest on record and 2024 is anticipated to establish new global temperature records. A UN report points out this alarming trend, projecting a temperature increase ranging between 2.5°C and 2.9°C in the years to come. In the face of this imminent threat, the global community must urgently implement measures to avert further environmental degradation.

The industrial challenge: navigating net zero commitments

In 2021, the industrial sector accounted for nearly 40% of global final energy consumption, emerging as the second-largest CO2-emitting sector after the power generation sector. For us in the industry, we need to envision how we can fulfil our net zero commitments amid escalating emissions and the expanding demand for fossil fuels, all by 2050. We cannot hope to achieve this ambitious goal without understanding the indispensable role of industrial decarbonization.

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Why industrial decarbonization?

Can industries be the superheroes working to make the environment cleaner? I think that industrial decarbonization can play a key role. Understanding industrial decarbonization and its key aspects - using energy better, using cleaner energy, choosing eco-friendly materials, making sustainable products and capturing and storing CO2 – are the first areas for each company to look at. These aspects can help industries reduce their emissions and be kinder to the planet.

But, being a climate superhero is not going to be easy. There are challenges in making industries stick to their promises of being super clean. I foresee two key challenges:

1. Using energy wisely and cleaner energy

Industries need really hot temperatures for their processes and using clean energy to make this heat efficiently can be difficult.

2. Eco-friendly materials and capturing CO2

Changing materials to reduce CO2 emissions requires big changes in how processes work - it's not as simple as just switching materials. Creating new places to catch and store CO2 can be really expensive, because it means building new factories and machines.

In simple terms, being a climate superhero for industries is challenging, but it's super important to make things better for our planet.

Have you read?

Paving the way for decarbonization in the tyre industry

I, and my peers in the tyre industry, recognize the key role we can play in steering towards a low-carbon transportation pathway to combat climate change. With the ever-growing demand for tyres and their associated climate impacts, our industry must adopt a strategic approach looking at all aspects of the emission value chain from raw material sourcing to manufacturing to the product's use phase, while navigating the roadmap to decarbonization.

One of the industry’s key concerns revolves around energy costs, particularly as global legislation comes into play, including the EU emission trading system.

Deploying new technologies. I envision a significant role for digitalization in the manufacturing of tyres. The integration of digital technologies, such as intelligent control systems and smart curing technologies, coupled with precise temperature and pressure control, has resulted in lower energy consumption. Further, digital transformation contributes to overall process improvement by enhancing efficiency, reducing rework and scrapping, optimizing energy usage and achieving cost savings.

Leveraging renewable and clean power. Our commitment to decarbonization must involve a transition to 100% renewable/clean electricity at production facilities and many tyre companies are working towards this. As we look at options in the renewable energy space, I think that hydrogen stands out as a pivotal player in future energy systems. For tyre manufacturers, there exists an exciting avenue to explore: utilizing hydrogen to generate the steam required for the high-temperature, high-pressure stages of the vulcanization process. This innovative approach aligns with the industry’s commitment to sustainable practices and opens doors to a cleaner, more efficient manufacturing process.

Eco-friendly materials. To create sustainable products, we need to adopt sustainable natural rubber and encourage the creation of an ecosystem for eco-friendly materials. The Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) acts as a unifying force, fostering collaboration among organizations and diverse stakeholders to drive positive changes in the natural rubber value chain. The industry stakeholders are already trying to empower smallholder farmers to create the right sustainable natural rubber ecosystem. This strategic engagement aligns seamlessly with the broader objective of creating a responsible and environmentally conscious value chain—a key pillar in the larger framework of industrial decarbonization.

Exploring design and innovation. Recognizing that the tyre ‘use stage’ constitutes the largest share (ranging between 70% to 85%) of the total carbon footprint in the tyre product lifecycle, our industry is actively engaged in bringing innovation to make an impact in this area. This includes advancements in tyre design, the creation of low-rolling-resistance tyres, the utilization of innovative materials and the implementation of manufacturing processes that promote improved fuel efficiency and emit fewer carbon emissions into the environment. Our journey towards decarbonization is both a responsibility and an opportunity to lead positive change in the industry and contribute to a sustainable future.

Embracing circularity. Furthermore, research and development can spearhead a dual-pronged approach to addressing end-of-life tyre circularity. Firstly, exploring the potential of producing hydrogen from waste tyres and waste management, offering a sustainable solution. This initiative aligns with environmental stewardship and positions our industry at the forefront of technological innovation and circular economy practices.

While the world achieved a milestone by adding a record 300 gigawatts of renewables last year, we still have a significant journey to traverse. To align with our aspirations, a substantial transition to alternative fuels, low-carbon development and strategic partnerships in research, design, development and demonstration is imperative.

The key question that looms large is whether we are prepared to deliver on the ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions. This calls for collective commitment, innovation and a resolute readiness to embrace the challenges and opportunities that decarbonization brings.

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