In the near future, it’s possible that the tyres your trucks have used find a second life in the road surface they travel on or even in the fuel that powers your truck.
Helping to create that circular economy is one of the objectives of Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA). TSA is an industry cooperative body, set up with State and Federal Government support and with the approval of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). One of its key focus areas is to work towards more sustainable, higher value, domestic uses of end-of-life tyres.
All transport operators are aware of the cost of tyres but what they may not be aware of is the environmental cost of not ensuring that old tyres are sustainably managed. They may also not be aware of the scale of the challenge. Australia produces the equivalent of 56 million used tyres each year and 30 per cent of that volume comes from heavy vehicles.
That is where TSA comes in. The organisation has three core objectives. The first is to educate both the tyre industry and tyre users as to scale of the issue, the second is to create an accreditation scheme that recognises desirable behaviour throughout the tyre supply chain, and the third is to invest in market development programs that will offer new uses for recycled tyre material.
It is in the last area that work is being done to analyse the commercial viability of technologies that can turn old tyres into valuable products, including rubber-crumb asphalt, road spray-seal, permeable paving and even oil that could be further refined into diesel.
Rubberised road and pavement products are already widely used in Australia. Rubber crumb has been in use as part of a spray-seal mix and in asphalt for some years. Now TSA and state roads bodies are working on increasing their use, both for the road surface durability benefits and the increased recycling use of old tyres.
The technology to extract oil, that could be further refined into diesel, from end-of-life tyres is more complex than creating rubber crumb. It is a process known as pyrolysis.
A high temperature, no oxygen ‘deconstruction’ that breaks down old tyres to component elements such as carbon black, synthetic gas, steel and low-grade oil (often referred to as bunker fuel). Although the technology has been around for many years and there are number of test and small-scale pilot pyrolysis plants around the world, the commercial viability of local, large- scale use of pyrolysis is what TSA, together with academic and government bodies, is investigating.
That work will continue as the industry looks for long-term solutions to the challenge of increasing the volume of domestic waste tyre recycling. History shows that new technologies that are prohibitively expensive at first often become commercially viable with time, scale and changing market demands. Therefore, the idea of delivering a circular economy in tyre use is not all that fanciful.
For now, transport operators can do their bit to ensure sustainable management of end-of-life tyres by joining the growing roster of major fleets that are gaining TSA accreditation. Doing so requires no cost, only the commitment to source tyres from accredited suppliers and ensuring that old tyres are collected by TSA accredited operators. With most major tyre brands and retail groups now TSA accredited and over 70 per cent of the Australian tyre collection and recycling industry also accredited, that obligation will be easy to meet.
The added benefit of gaining TSA accreditation is to be considered for government contracts, at all levels, by government bodies now requiring TSA accreditation in tenders.
Increasing participation by the transport industry will play a major role in helping TSA achieve its objective of addressing an ongoing environmental challenge and turning it into opportunities for valuable new products and new jobs.