Shrinking a Giant
Michelin has in the past year launched a range of initiatives that contribute to the company’s aim of substantially reducing the carbon footprint of its tyres from the first stage of production, to their use on the road, right through to the tyre’s eventual disposal at the end of their lives. These end-to-end efficiencies will require continuous investment, but are expected to create great environmental benefits.
One initiative is the MEF (Michelin sites Environmental Footprint) programme, which includes a number of ambitious objectives for Michelin’s factories to reach by a target deadline of 2011. These include a reduction of energy consumption by 7 per cent, water usage by 10 per cent, CO2 by 10 per cent, other harmful emissions by 25 per cent and materials going to landfill by 60 per cent.
The first step towards these goals was taken at Michelin’s headquarters in Stoke-on-Trent, where a combined programme of heat and power reduction was implemented. The tyre major followed this up with the installation of two wind turbines at its Dundee manufacturing plant, greatly reducing the site’s dependency on fossil fuels. In the time they have been running, the turbines have generated enough carbon free electricity to power the nearby city for a month. The use of green power generation methods is currently under consideration for other Michelin sites in the UK and abroad.
As well as a green manufacturing site, Dundee is a key facility in the production of a new car tyre that Michelin says radically reduces the fuel consumption, and therefore the CO2 output, of the vehicles to which they are fitted. This new product, the Michelin Energy Saver, can lower an average car’s carbon emissions by around 6.5g per mile (compared to vehicles fitted with a standard tyre). This reduction is achieved by combining a rubber composite compound and new tread pattern to decrease the tyre’s rolling resistance, which accounts for a fifth of a car’s overall energy use. Despite the fact that rolling resistance is reduced in the Energy Saver, Michelin assures motorists its new tyre does not lose any of the grip and durability traits the company’s products are known for.
No matter how much investment Michelin pours into research and development, no tyre can be energy efficient unless it is kept at the right pressure, and according to Michelin survey statistics motorists in the UK are amongst the worst in Europe at doing that. Michelin research in 2007 showed that 80 per cent of British motorists were wasting the equivalent of 3p per litre of fuel by having tyres at the wrong pressure. Half of these were running at pressures considered “dangerous” and “likely to cause accident”. Michelin’s 2008 “Fill up with Air” campaign is intended to warn motorists about the waste and danger of running tyres at the wrong pressure. Michelin is also supporting a campaign in Europe to have the energy efficiency of tyres rated in the same way as fridges or washing machines, so that motorists can identify which tyres can save them money and reduce their carbon footprint.
What happens to tyres at the end of their useful lives is of major importance and Michelin has introduced a number of solutions in this field. These include the use of 6,000 tonnes of scrap truck tyres, along with waste material from the company’s Ballymena facility, to help create children’s play areas. This partnership with specialist re-cycling company Charles Lawrence International means that tyres are turned into granules, which form the basis of patented play area surfaces. End-of-life car tyres are also put to good use through a Michelin joint venture with Lafarge. Sapphire Energy Recovery Limited has sites all over the country where tyres are first shredded and then used to fire cement kilns, which completely consume them.
Michelin states that environmental responsibility is one of the driving forces behind the company, and the group already pioneers the sourcing of rubber from the most sustainable suppliers. It is heavily involved in research through events such as Challenge Bibendum, which showcases the best energy-saving developments from automotive manufacturers worldwide.