About this good practice
Every year, more than 1.5 billion tires are removed from vehicles creating around 13.5 million tons of solid waste. More than half of these tires are burned or land-filled, often in parts of the world where environmental controls are poor or non-existent. 2.4 billion tires are manufactured each year requiring around 7.2 million tons of ‘furnace’ carbon black produced from fossil fuels. In 2010, the founders of Black Bear Carbon began thinking of the enormous unexplored potential of used tires. The team started developing an innovative technology to extract carbon black from end-of-life tyres to the highest possible quality. In the next years, this technology was brought up to an industrial scale and the company established a first partnership with a major Dutch tyre collector. Many European, Dutch and regional subsidies have supported the GP in the earlier phase of building the company, and private investors have also financed the business activities. Black Bear’s process uses end-of-life tires as a feedstock to produce consistent, high quality carbon blacks. This CE approach not only solves an important waste management problem but also massively reduces CO₂ emissions. The production of carbon black also yields an important by-product, green energy, in the form of high calorific gas and oil, which can be converted to heat, electricity or steam and provides an additional income stream within the business model.
Several European, national and regional subsidies have supported Black Bear in the earlier phase of building the company. Support from EU and Dutch government served as prime example in the world of circular economy. Loans with low interest rates from social funds were acquired.
Evidence of success
The success regarding technical and environmental innovation is remarkable. The GP demonstrated that is possible to create a more sustainable and high-quality carbon black that highly improves the ecological footprint of products, as well as lowering the content of polluting emissions and reducing waste processing costs. Typically, replacing virgin carbon black with green carbon black from Black Bear saves 5-7 ton CO2 for each ton of substituted material.
Potential for learning or transfer
The waste tires and the associated environmental problems are in every country of the world. So the Circular Economy approach implemented by Black Bear Carbon could be applied to different regions, by involving local partners and governments in order to maximize the positive environmental impact.
However, there are several challenges in implementing a circular business model for creating green carbon black. In the first place, although many potential customers are keen on adopting a green alternative, it takes dedication and perseverance to move through the lengthy approval procedures in large and established organisations. Building a trusted brand and sharing independent test results have been key drivers for success. In the second place many circular business models, as opposed to pure digital plays, require significant funding. In this case, moving to commercial scale required a €10m investment in plant construction.