As demand for electric vehicles continues to grow, one start-up company is looking to make the cars even more sustainable – by turning used tires into batteries.
Most electric vehicles rely on lithium-ion batteries for their power. But critics say that those batteries are far from being as efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable as they could be. That's where one Chile-based company says old tires come into play.
The company, called T-Phite is putting used car tires through a process called pyrolysis, which entails putting the tires under extreme heat so that they break down into smaller molecules. T-Phite CEO Bernardita Diaz says those molecules become three primary byproducts – pyrolytic oil, steel and carbon black, a substance that contains graphite material essential to providing an electric pathway within batteries for energy to surge.
According to black carbon supplier Imerys, which is not involved with this project, carbon black is usually produced "by the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products such as FCC tar, coal tar, ethylene cracking tar, and a small amount of vegetable oil."
Along with having "excellent electrical conductivity," Imerys says that the substance is also known for being wear-resistant.
Making this substance out of used tires solves two problems, Diaz told Reuters.
"One is the final disposal of tires and the second is the demand that is being generated for electromobility materials," she said. "And when you obtain materials from other waste, you are generating what is known as the circular economy."
In the U.S. alone, roughly 250 million tires are left for scrap every year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Of those tires, less than half are either recycled into new products or used to create tire-derived fuel, the agency said.
"Natural resources are already very limited and the fact that new solutions can be found from waste is very important," Diaz said, adding that their process can go beyond lithium-ion batteries and extend to sodium batteries, "the next-generation batteries in electromobility."
"It is very important and gratifying for us that this innovation has not only focused on a business niche, but that it provides much more openness," she said.
Diaz's company told Reuters that potential investors have shown significant interest in the process and may be looking to help scale it up to an industrial level. But while their process is certainly impressive, it is built on years of research into this possible solution.
In 2014, scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee found that carbon can be isolated from tire rubber-derived materials, and that the substance performed better than when derived from other materials. Further research from separate scientists published in 2021 found that carbon black can "systematically improve" battery performance so that they can charge faster.
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