Bridgestone Zeroes In on Cutting CO2 and Increasing Circularity

by | Sep 6, 2022

(Photo: Crumb rubber holding bays at Delta-Energy Group plant in Natchez, Mississippi. Credit: Delta-Energy Group)

Bridgestone Corp. is a tire, rubber, and auto parts manufacturer. The Tokyo-based company operates in 150 countries and has 181 production facilities. It was founded in 1931 and is the largest tire maker in the world.

It offers sustainable solutions and sets goals for carbon reductions and the circular economy. To that end, it has reduced CO2 emissions by 31% from 2011 to 2021. It has done so in part by increasing its use of renewable energy. It aspires to source more than half of its internal energy use from green power by 2023. It aims to cut its carbon use by 50% by 2030 from a 2011 baseline. It wants to be carbon neutral by 2050.

“In such turbulent times, we believe it is our role and responsibility – as a leading company in the tire and rubber industry that has continued to support social transformation and the movement of people and objects from the ground up – to support the realization of a sustainable society,” says Shuichi Ishibashi, chief executive of Bridgestone, in its sustainability report.

How will Bridgestone achieve its climate goals?

To achieve both its short- and long-term aims, the company will focus on its internal operations and supply chain, including customer use, raw material procurement, distribution, reuse, and recycling. Overall, Bridgestone has set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2050, in line with the Paris climate agreement.

“The Bridgestone Group has set a goal to contribute to global CO2 emissions reductions across the lifecycle and value chain of its products and services that exceed five times the CO2 emissions from its operations by 2030,” the company says. “Across the entire life cycle of tires, emissions during product use account for about 90% of total CO2 emissions. Therefore, the Group also will expand the range of products and services it provides that contribute to the reduction of CO2 emitted during customer use.”

For example, it includes producing fuel-efficient tires and transportation solutions. That includes fleet management services that contribute to improved fuel efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions by helping to streamline fleet operations. Regarding the tires, the company uses a proprietary technology called Enliten, which requires fewer materials and produces fewer greenhouse gases. The tire is 10% lighter and improves vehicle handling.

To get to the 50% CO2 reduction goal, the company is increasing its use of renewable energy. That has led to a 31% decline in those emissions compared to 2011. Bridgestone built a 2-megawatt large-scale solar power generation system at the passenger and light truck tire plant in Aiken, South Carolina, in 2020. At this point, renewable energy makes up 11% of its energy usage. The goal is to expand the use of clean energy to more than 50% by 2023.

In Europe, the company’s actions have been even more aggressive. In 2018, four of its Spanish plants operated entirely on green energy. In 2020, plants in Poland, Hungary, Belgium, and the United Kingdom switched to renewable energy. In 2021, one plant in Italy did the same. “This completes the transition of electricity use to 100% renewable energy at all tire plants producing new tires in Europe.”

The company has also made energy efficiency improvements that have reduced lifecycle emissions. Cutting the weight of a tire has reduced the number of raw materials needed to produce one. It cut those CO2 emissions per unit of sales by 37% in 2020 from a 2005 baseline. Furthermore, Bridgestone has introduced high-efficiency equipment to reduce energy loss during manufacturing. It has set a standard of 0.5% energy-efficiency improvements a year.

What has Bridgestone done to advance the circular economy? 

It is advancing tire recycling technology — a challenging task, given that used tires must return to rubber or raw materials. “A depletion of natural resources, and the resulting sharp rise in raw material prices, is expected to have a significant impact on production activities,” says Bridgestone. “The Group recognizes that using resources more wisely and sustainably is an opportunity to address this important issue. For this reason, the Group believes it will be necessary to establish a material-recycling system that returns end-of-life tires, which are used mainly as fuel, to tire raw materials.”

It is thus building a recycling business called TIRE-TO-RAW MATERIAL. To that end, it is partnering with the Delta Energy Group to produce tires that use ‘recovered carbon black’’ — a material recovered from retired tires. It replaces ‘virgin black carbon.’ Using recycled materials will cut CO2 emissions by 81%, it says. The company is researching innovative tools to reprocess rubber from tires. Better heat techniques are one way — to enable recycled material to get used as a material for new tires.

In 2020, Bridgestone purchased 1,200 metric tons of recycled or recovered carbon black. That’s the equivalent of 380,000 end-of-life tires, preventing 1,900 metric tons of CO2 emissions. The goal is to increase those purchases to 6,800 metric tons and reduce CO2 levels by 10,800 metric tons.

“In addition to developing materials and designs that make tires more recyclable, the Group is aiming for a design that enables efficiency and optimization throughout the entire value chain, including procurement, production, logistics, sales, service, and collection,” says the sustainability statement. “This growth business opportunity is an example of how the Bridgestone Group is investing in new business models that balance environmental sustainability with customer safety, economy, and productivity.”

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