The Tour de France is big on environmental protection. And that fits in neatly with the sustainability strategy of Continental. Claus Petschick, Head of the Sustainability department at Continental’s Tires business area, tells us more – and explains why cycle racers might soon be lining up on tires produced using dandelion.
Mr. Petschick, sustainability is an important factor for the Tour de France organizers. For example, they promote eco zones along the course and encourage trash separation during the race. What can Continental, as a partner of the Tour, do to help make this a sustainable event?
Claus Petschick: Continental is a champion of sustainability, most prominently in its role as a partner of the Tour de France. The Tires business area has been engaged in sustainability-related initiatives for many years. We recently brought together all of our activities and projects into the newly created Sustainability department as part of our strategy program “Vision 2030”. This move allows us to target our worldwide sustainability-related activities and research projects even more effectively. A key contributor here is our partnership with the GPSNR (Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber) and the company GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), through which we are seeking to establish a verifiably sustainable pathway for sourcing natural rubber. Here, our aim is to put in place a traceable and sustainable supply chain and lead by example by establishing best practices in natural rubber production. To this end, we are conducting basic research in many areas with the goal of developing alternative raw material sources for tire production.
Can you give us an example?
Claus: About two years ago, Continental opened a new research lab in the German region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The teams at the Taraxagum Lab work with experts from the Fraunhofer Institute on extracting natural rubber from dandelion plants. Locating rubber plantations next to the tire factory would then bring both ecological and economic benefits; short transportation distances would significantly reduce CO2 emissions. This would also allow us to address the environmental problem of increasing deforestation and the associated conversion of forest areas to other forms of land use.
Does this mean cycle racers might be using dandelion-based tires in the future?
Claus: Some cyclists already are! With the Urban Taraxagum, we have brought the world’s first bike tire with a tread made from dandelion rubber onto the market. And where did we present it? At last year’s Tour de France, of course. The pro racers aren’t using them quite yet, but there is strong demand among urban cyclists for these extremely effective and, yes, sustainable tires. Extending their usage span beyond the city limits remains an option for the future.
Will cars soon be fitted with these tires as well?
Claus: Small-series production of the bicycle tires takes place at our plant in Korbach, Germany. We haven’t quite reached the same stage yet when it comes to large-scale use on cars. But we are working hard on driving forward the industrialization of dandelion-based tires. We expect to have the first series-produced tires for passenger cars ready in the next five to ten years. We have already tested some very promising experimental tires at our Contidrom facility near Hanover and at Arvidsjaur in Sweden. However, a lot of time-intensive development work is required to create a versatile-usage, high-performance product of excellent quality for customers.
Dandelion is for sure not the only magic ingredient in the tires…
Claus: No, but it is a particularly exciting one. It goes without saying that we are working in a number of different areas to constantly increase the sustainability of our production processes and products – in line with the strategy I mentioned earlier. To this end, all the materials in a tire are tested repeatedly and, as far as possible, replaced with more environment-friendly alternatives. For example, we have developed a special tire for hybrid vehicles whose rolling resistance is around 30 percent lower than that of a standard tire. The vehicle therefore has to use its combustion engine for propulsion far less frequently and it covers greater distances on electric power.
So rolling resistance is key to more sustainable mobility?
Claus: That’s right. In addition to safety, minimizing rolling resistance is one of our principal aims in the research and development process; it means fuel and electric power consumption can be cut substantially. So if the support cars in future editions of the Tour de France are all hybrids or electric, we will have the right tire ready for them.