Circularity in Transportation: already a reality

Pirelli joined The Ray, an organization dedicated to promoting innovation in sustainable mobility, in a conversation on greener practices for tire and auto makers. These were the main takeaways.

Home Life Sustainability mobility Circularity in Transportation: already a reality

The transportation industry is in a transformative and transitional period. Not only are technological innovations booming, but the environmental toll of transportation as a whole has also come under the microscope. Leaders from every corner of the space are examining their environmental impact to find ways that they can reduce their footprint. From auto manufacturers to tiremakers like Pirelli, investment in sustainability R&D has been a priority for the last several years, and it's bearing many green fruits.

One such fruit? Circularity

The circular economy is not a new concept, but the potential for a fully circular economy in the transportation ecosystem is still far from realization. That's where experts like our very own Maureen Kline, vice president of public affairs and sustainability for North America, come in to share their expertise and insights on the progress being made at all points of the supply chain. 

Pirelli aims to make waste a resource in tire production. While “reduce, reuse, recycle” is a well-known concept for Americans, organizations should “re-think” their product designs and processes from the ground up so that sustainable materials and practices can be implemented organically in an environmentally-conscious framework.

From a tires perspective, this means sourcing more renewable materials for lighter tires and designing them for greater fuel efficiency, all while balancing these changes with the needs of other innovations like heavier electric vehicles that consume tires at faster rates. 

Pirelli takes on the entire tire lifecycle to meet both internal and external sustainability initiatives. This means enacting change in:

  • Sourcing raw materials
  • Manufacturing
  • Supply chain logistics
  • Consumer tire use
  • End of life

The end of a tire's life is also the point where Pirelli is looking to introduce more comprehensive circularity. 263.4 million scrap tires were generated in the United States in 2019 alone, with only 76% of these reentering the scrap tire market for recycling or repurposing. While a better recycling rate than some other scrap materials, this still leaves millions of tires each year that are simply wasted, posing significant harm to the environment. Pirelli, alongside other tiremakers, are now working to make this rate 100%. Some solutions shared in the webinar include repurposing tire rubber for stormwater infiltration galleries and rubber-modified asphalt for future roads.

Looking beyond the tires, the topic of electric vehicle battery recycling and upcycling is pressing. With so many valuable and nonrenewable resources being poured into EV battery production, it's an absolute necessity for circularity to be implemented in the EV industry for full-scale adoption to take place. 

One material that could be considered the complete opposite of nonrenewable is aluminum. This common metal is not only easily renewable, but consumes only a fraction of the energy that other resources require to actually repurpose it. 75% of all aluminum produced since 1888 is still in circulation today. That's why companies like Novelis are already working to increase the aluminum composition of vehicles, which reduces their weight significantly while reducing the emissions and energy consumption required to produce said vehicles.

While innovative solutions like these are still in progress, what we learned during this discussion paints a very optimistic picture for the future of mobility and the transportation world.