Mobility

Michelin on a roll: The sustainable tyre revolution

For car designers, good design starts with the wheels. Big wheels. Just ask industry giants like Michael Mauer of Porsche or Mitja Borkert of Lamborghini. Good vehicle performance in turn starts with good tyres. Which are, of course, best sustainable. And that's exactly the thing of Michelin. How does that work? The French revealed it to us at Le Mans.

  • Text & Photos
    Marko Knab · ramp.pictures

Some claim that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. You can see it that way. But with this attitude, you're kind of rolling in place. That's exactly what Michelin wants to avoid. Because the French want nothing more than to reinvent precisely this wheel - or rather the tyre. They want it to be sustainable. With the same performance, of course. The goals are ambitious: by 2030, 40 percent of tyres are to be made of sustainable materials, and by 2050, all products that leave a Michelin factory.

Their most important development laboratory is the race track. Especially in racing series like the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC, where the tyres are exposed to the most extreme demands, the developers can gain fundamental insights. This was recently the case at the season highlight in Le Mans. It will be the same again at Fuji in September or at the season finale in Bahrain. In contrast to the past, the current tyres for the top class of hypercars were completely designed on the simulator - which is much more efficient and thus more sustainable than former methods.

In contrast to the past, the current tyres for the top class of hypercars were completely designed on the simulator - which is much more efficient and thus more sustainable than former methods.

Above all, however, it is the mix that counts. For example, the tyres for the technology-carrying Porsche Cayman GT4 ePerformance and the hydrogen prototype Green GT H24 consist of 63 of sustainable materials. Without compromising on performance. A real prospect for the future, both for racing and road tyres.

To achieve this, Michelin uses recycled polyester from PET bottles: Through chemical decomposition with enzymes, not only new beverage containers can be made from old plastic bottles, but also chemically virgin polyester fibres, which in turn are used in tyre production.

Industrial carbon black is also used. This is obtained through pyrolysis - a clean combustion of used tyres. The soot obtained in this way serves as a filler between the rubber molecules. Polystyrene is also recycled for tyre production: with the help of microwaves, the plastic is broken down into its individual chemical components and can then be used again for new products. For yoghurt pots, for example. Or to produce a precursor to synthetic rubber.

Last but not least, harvest and wood waste also provide an important building block for the tyre of the future: ethanol, from which butadiene is produced. Together with styrene, this is needed for the production of synthetic rubber. This process by Axens and IFP Energies Nouvelles with renewable raw materials is intended to replace conventional production with petroleum.

In addition to the ingredients already mentioned, there are of course other components and know-how that go into a successful and sustainable tyre.
The video from Michelin shows us how this is put together.

The French aim to bring this concept onto the road for private customers soon. Of course, this still requires a lot of test kilometres. Ideally, these will be completed on the racetracks of the world, such as Le Mans. Because this is where the innovations are transformed into production-ready technologies, emphasises Michelin's motorsport boss Matthieu Bornadel. Summarised in one sentence, this translates into: "We race for change".

Because there is also the self-imposed challenge to always become a little better, faster and above all more efficient.
Marko Knab

Marko Knab

Journalist & Photographer
Life writes the best stories - and Marko Knab tells them in text and picture form. His focus: people & their very own stories and cars, motorsports and travel stories. He already worked for Motorsport-Total.com while completing his Bachelor's degree in German Language, followed by a brief stint at a local daily newspaper and a Master's degree in literature and cultural theory - and ramp.

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