Versalis research develops innovative tyre recycling technology

Tyres that have reached the end of their useful life can be given a new lease of life thanks to the ingenuity of researchers at Versalis, Eni’s chemical company - by Luca Longo

The circular economy of products is a determining factor in achieving full sustainability of human activities and environmental protection. Only with a correct model of production, consumption and recycling of materials and products will it be possible to extend their life cycle, reduce waste and reintegrate them into the production cycle, thereby generating new value and saving our natural resources.

If we take the tyre industry as an example, manufacturers are now required to recycle billions of tyres that have reached the end of their lives every year. In Italy alone, more than 500,000 tonnes of used tyres have to be managed every year. At present, end-of-life tyres (ELTs) are recycled into low-value products, such as road pavements or playground covers, or burnt in waste incinerators with consequent CO2 emissions. However, it is unfortunately not uncommon for them to be simply sent to landfill, when not dumped by the roadside.

The technology for tyre recycling

In light of this situation, many research projects around the world are aiming to develop a technology that can fully exploit these materials by reusing them to produce new tyres. It is no easy challenge: in order to put a worn tyre back into the economic cycle, it is first necessary to separate the plies made of nylon rope nets and rayon or polyester fabrics and the steel belts, sending each component to a dedicated recycling process. What remains is an elastomeric product, which is flexible and elastic. This is then ground and micronised to a powder finer than ground coffee.

For a tyre manufacturer, recycling poses difficulties that are not easy to overcome. They include the dispersion of dust into the air with an impact on workers’ health and on the environment, as well as the high costs involved in completing the entire transformation process.


From research to industrial implementation

Together with their teams, researchers Gabriele Gatti, Technical Authority at Versalis’ Ravenna site and Costantino Perretta of the Versalis Research Centre at the Ferrara site have developed an innovative technological platform that allows a variable quantity of these dusts to be embedded and dispersed, thus gaining multiple benefits. Versalis researchers have succeeded in handling the micronised tyre dust in a safe and concentrated way in a single plant, where they obtain a solid and compact product that customers can easily use in their own production lines. In addition to making the embedding and dispersion of the recycled component easier, this process will reduce the time and cost of producing the elastomeric compound, thereby lowering the energy costs of the entire operation.

The new Versalis technology platform has already been validated on a pilot plant and tested on an industrial plant. Promotion of the new Versalis Revive® ESBR product family is underway at major tyre manufacturers.

For this unprecedented technological success, the inventors of the Versalis Research Centre received the Eni Award 2022 from the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, during a ceremony held on 3 October at the Quirinal Palace in Rome.