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On the look for new renewable raw materials

The EU has included natural rubber on the list of critical raw materials. Guayule is an opportunity not only for Nokian Tyres but also for the local agriculture and industry in Spain.

We actively look for and test renewable raw materials. Our aim is to find bio-based raw materials for various raw material groups, create eco-friendlier tires, and replace fossil raw materials. We will also reduce the use of harmful substances, thereby improving occupational safety in production. We were the first in our industry to give up the use of high aromatic oils.

Renewable raw materials are also used for improving tires’ properties and performance by modifying the compound property balance at varying temperatures. The use of new raw materials requires a great deal of product development efforts and testing in order to find the best combination of properties for a tire. In materials development, the use of renewable materials must not alter a tire’s safety characteristics.

The best progress has been made in the use of renewable raw materials with bio-based oils. They are used in order to replace synthetic oils that are based on crude oil. The winter tires that we launched in 2017 use a rubber compound with a bio-based softener that improves the tires’ safety characteristics.

For the new products of 2018, we developed new kinds of grip particles, whose raw material comes from a secondary flow in bio-industry. We conduct research in order to investigate the use of recycled rubber sourced from used tires as a replacement for fossil carbon black.
The use of renewable raw materials has not required us to change our production processes or had any significant effects on the energy consumption in production. However, renewable raw materials often increase the raw material costs of tires.

FINDING altervatives FOR NATURAL RUBBER

Guayule-based natural rubber is one of the active initiatives that Nokian Tyres is working on. We are currently testing the suitability of different guayule varieties to be cultivated in central Spain, near our new testing center in Santa Cruz de la Zarza.

As guayule originates from the desert, it can survive in very dry and poor soil conditions. It is a plant that does not exploit areas of any other vegetation or food production, on the contrary, it makes use of wastelands. Nokian Tyres is collaborating with local farmers, universities, research institutes, and companies in Spain. Guayule is an opportunity not only for Nokian Tyres but also for the local agriculture and industry.

Currently, natural rubber that is used in tires comes from rubber trees (Hevea Brasiliensis), which are growing in areas around the equator. This results in long logistics chains for tire manufacturers located in the north, which is bad for the environment and also costly. If guayule succeeds as an alternative source for natural rubber, it will shorten the transporting distance and reduce the CO2 emissions.

Conservation of natural vegetation in tropical areas would be another environmental benefit. The substantial use of toxic pesticides on rubber plantations in Southeast Asia is a problem for the environment. Also, the South American leaf blight (Microcyclus Ulei) poses problems for the cultivation. The majority of the rubber rees in Asia are clones of varieties highly vulnerable to this disease.

Guayule, however, grows in dry areas, and no major plant diseases have thus far been identified as potential problems. It is also hypoallergenic, unlike the normal Hevea rubber. This is a relief for many people working in the rubber industry, logistics, and trade.

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