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Driving Change

Bridgestone’s tires are going circular

Through a partnership with LanzaTech, Bridgestone is scaling up a closed-looped system that uses bacteria to recreate the raw material for new rubber.

Bridgestone and LanzaTech

Bridgestone President and CEO Paolo Ferrari with LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren. Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Americas

Bridgestone is no stranger to recycling tires.

For years, the company has collected used tires and repurposed their component parts. Sometimes they’re turned into rubberized asphalt, sometimes construction materials or mulch, sometimes burned for fuel. There’s just one problem: A lot of carbon is often emitted along the way. Melting tires down for the cement industry, for example, releases 100 percent of the carbon in that tire back into the atmosphere.

So Bridgestone, with a renewed company-wide focus on sustainability, is using a different strategy to create tires from recycled material. Through a partnership with LanzaTech, the world’s largest tire manufacturer is scaling up a closed-looped system that uses bacteria to break down the rubber, capture carbon and create the raw material for new rubber.

"We’re looking at completing that circle to bring that material back to making your tire," said Nizar Trigui, Bridgestone’s chief technology officer. He’s spent the past 30 years in the mobility and tech businesses, with more than 20 years at Ford Motor Co. Now he’s leading Bridgestone’s sustainable business transformation.

LanzaTech’s innovation is in converting waste materials to ethanol, which is typically sourced from fresh fossil fuels-related carbon. It has turned steel mill emissions into Zara dresses and laundry detergent. With Bridgestone, LanzaTech will be turning tires into ethanol, which can then be turned into tires again. 

Here’s how it works: LanzaTech will partially gasify the tires, producing carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Then, it will introduce bacteria that feeds on those gases and creates new ethanol, without losing carbon along the way.

"We’ve been really keen on closed-loop systems," said Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech. "We believe that post-consumer waste, manufacturing waste are things that need to be put back into the cycle." 

Trigui said the partnership with LanzaTech is part of a much broader sustainability strategy at Bridgestone. "It was all about growing or evolving beyond just being the No. 1 tire company of the world," he said. “We aspire to be the world leading sustainable solutions company."

We believe that post-consumer waste, manufacturing waste are things that need to be put back into the cycle.

Bridgestone has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050 and also wants to reach 100 percent material circulatity by that time. That will be accomplished through a number of strategies, Trigui said. The company is looking at energy efficiency in its factories, new technologies to extend the life of tires and fleet management software that could maximize tire performance and, again, extend their life. And when the tires are done, technologies such as LanzaTech will come in to recycle and reuse the material. 

"We’re really looking at every aspect," Trigui said. Bridgestone also recently released its "E8 Commitment," a set of values to guide its sustainability commitments over the coming decades. "That’s going to drive everything that we do in the future," he said.

But Trigui said these new strategies are not simply about sustainability — they’re also about boosting customer satisfaction and the bottom line. He said the LanzaTech partnership will be a for-profit venture and that the new materials will be a "coveted" product that can help Bridgestone grow.

The two companies have executed a proof of concept at a "reasonable scale," Trigui said, but are still working on full-scale deployment, which will require building out large chemical facilities to process millions of tires a year — still only a fraction of the billions of tires that reach the end of their useful life each year.

"You should leave no tires behind as far as we’re concerned," said Holmgren.

LanzaTech also has ambitions far beyond tires. It’s eyeing all types of feedstocks — biomass, apparel, municipal waste, steel mill emissions and gases — as sustainable sources of carbon. And it has spun out a company, LanzaJet, that will use waste resources to create ethanol and ultimately sustainable aviation fuel, something Holmgren sees as a step on the path toward fully decarbonizing aviation.

Because such waste resources are abundant, Holmgren said it could enable individual countries or municipalities to create their own supply chains based on what’s available. (For more on Holmgren’s strategy, read this GreenBiz Q&A.)

"We like to say, no carbon left behind. We really believe everything we use in our daily lives, from fuels to chemicals, can come from carbon that’s already above ground, ensuring that carbon stays in the ground," Holmgren said.

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