How the Automotive Industry is Using Recycled Plastic to Improve the Environment

Montreal’s Pyrowave, a leading innovator in plastic recycling, partners with Michelin to industrialize plastic waste recycling technology that increases the rate of sustainable materials in Michelin tires and other industries.

The phrase “pedal to the metal” can make us forget that the typical car is made with roughly 151 kilograms (more than 300 lbs) of plastic. What we should be saying when we accelerate off the starting line is “pedal to the plastic” given that almost every car is over 50% plastic, and that percentage is set to increase as vehicle manufacturers seek to develop lightweight, fuel efficient cars. Let’s look at tires, for example.

Today, tires are made of more synthetic rubber than natural rubber. This synthetic rubber, a variation of plastic first created in 1910, offers better abrasion resistance, withstands extreme temperatures, is more cost-effective and more flexible than natural rubber. Given the benefits of tires made from plastics, it’s natural that the global leader in tire manufacturing—Michelin—has paired with Pyrowave, Canada’s leading plastic waste recycling pioneer, to industrialize a technology that would increase the rate of sustainable materials in tires and other industries. Because Michelin has the second largest single-company sales of tires with nearly 14% market share, its moves to make sustainable tires could influence other large companies in the market.

Pyrowave has developed an award-winning, advanced-recycling technology that puts the industry closer to infinite recycling through regeneration. Like the name suggests, the company uses a high-power microwave process that breaks down plastics into their most basic building blocks, otherwise known as monomers, without any damage or greenhouse gas emissions. This scientific approach makes it easy to reassemble the monomers to make brand new plastics.

The patented plastic-to-plastic technology allows styrene, an important monomer, to be used in resources like synthetic rubber for tires. As a global leader in the mobility industry, Michelin Group was attracted to an innovation that converts post-consumer plastic into high-value-added products.

After a year of testing samples of Pyrowave’s recycled styrene in the composition of its tires, Michelin realized how the plastic regeneration process could help accomplish its goal to manufacture tires using 80% sustainable materials, like recycled plastics, biomass and textiles.

Growing new markets for recycled plastics is important to attract investments in advanced recycling technologies like Pyrowave’s microwave-based process. Michelin and Pyrowave agreed to partner to accelerate bringing Pyrowave’s technology to market, as well as, fast track its certification and commercial rollout in international markets. Now, Michelin’s technical teams are working with Pyrowave’s counterparts, and will be ready to demonstrate the technology by 2023. With an estimated $30.7 million in funding from Michelin, the technology will meet the highest standards in terms of safety, operation, and performance.

While Michelin’s tires will be the focus at first, the goal is to expand to end-markets such as packaging, insulation, and household appliances. Once Pyrowave and Michelin reach their 2023 milestone, the circular economy for plastics will see unprecedented value chain expansion.