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How Michelin turns plastic bottles into tire material

In February 2021, Michelin announced plans to move to fully recyclable tires by 2050. This is a rather ambitious task, not too easy to implement, but the French manufacturer is taking big steps towards this goal.

So, Michelin recently became a partner of the French biochemical company Carbios in the field of enzymatic processing technologies. Disposable plastic bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are one of the planet’s biggest sources of pollution, and Michelin has decided to put them to good use. Through a process developed by Carbios, PET is converted into reinforcing fibers for tires.

Mixed with Carbios enzymes, the plastic bottle material breaks down into two pure monomers. Michelin can then re-polymerize these ingredients to create the desired plastic for its purpose.

In 2019, we announced the production of the first PET bottles using 100% pure terephthalic acid sourced from recycled plastic using enzymatic technologies, ” said Alain Marty, Science Director of Carbios. -Today, together with Michelin, we demonstrate the complete cycle of our process, obtaining high quality PET from low-quality waste plastic, suitable for the manufacture of high-tech fibers.

High quality durable Michelin tires

Unlike thermomechanical processing (grinding and remelting bottles), the Carbios enzymatic process preserves the integrity of the product structure. The fact is that remelted PET can contain both mechanical inclusions and an admixture of scraps of polymer molecules (“Microplastic”), deteriorating its mechanical, i.e. reinforcing properties. And since along with “Ecological” Michelin still faces the main task, that is, the production of high-quality reliable tires, the company must be confident in the stability of the quality of the raw materials used.

We are proud to be the first to manufacture and test technical tire fibers made from colored plastic bottles treated with enzymatic technologies from our partner Carbios, ”said Michelin Polymer Research Director Nicholas Seebot. -These high-tech reinforcing fibers exhibit properties similar to those produced by the oil refining industry.

Of course, 100% recyclable tires are still a long way off, but industrial-scale utilization of hitherto unclaimed plastic waste (dirty, colored, old) is a big step towards this remarkable goal.

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