Continental pursues sustainability goals

16th September 2021 By: Simone Liedtke - Writer

Tyre manufacturer Continental is pursuing ambitious sustainability goals in order to become the “most progressive manufacturer in the tyre industry by 2030”.

Its efforts are centered on climate action, low-emission mobility, the circular economy and sustainable supply chains.

"We have been investing in research and development for many years to drive innovative technologies, alternative and sustainable materials, and environment-friendly production processes," says Continental business unit replacement tires head Philipp von Hirschheydt.

He refers to the company’s cooperation with Extreme E, which he says was “additionally an integral part of [the company’s] strategy to roll out the priority of sustainability to new target groups".

Continental is a founding partner and premium sponsor of the Extreme E all-electric racing series.

Through its commitment, Continental, together with Extreme E, aims to draw attention to the challenges of climate change occurring worldwide. “For a global company like Continental, it is not just a matter of taking our own measures. We also want to make a contribution to drawing society's attention to the challenges we are facing,” says Von Hirschheydt.

Through the partnership, the company also demonstrates its technological capabilities in racing.

The vehicle is a 1.78 t electric-powered racing sports utility vehicle with 550 hp (about 410 kW).

"In developing the tyre, we overcame three major challenges: in addition to the very tight development schedule, the weight is high compared to other racing vehicles,” explains Continental product management summer team lead Catarina Silva, who mentions that “the torque is very strong, as is usual with electric drives”.

The combination of these two factors puts an enormous strain on the tyres, she notes.

After thorough testing, Continental's developers chose the CrossContact off-road tyre as the basis and adapted the design to meet the challenges of Extreme E.

Since the tyre has to deliver the same performance on all surfaces under any weather conditions, the developers extensively tested the CrossContact Extreme E on various test tracks and different surfaces.

"The development period was very tight. However, we managed to handle many processes in parallel that would otherwise run classically one after the other. The entire development process was a great experience for the whole team," says Silva.

Additionally, Continental set out its new strategic program for the tyres business area at the end of 2020, called “Vision 2030”, which is focused on the systematic customer-centric alignment of the organization and all its business activities.

In addition, the tyres business area is targeting further profitable growth and, in a fast-changing market environment, aiming to set itself apart from the competition in respect of sustainability.

With this in mind, back in April 2020, all the relevant projects and activities worldwide were brought under the umbrella of the newly created Sustainability department, Continental says.

In order to arrive at a more energy-efficient and environment-friendly tyre of the future in respect of production, use and recyclability, Continental says it systematically invests in research and development in the fields of new technologies, alternative materials and environmentally compatible production processes.

Through these efforts, by 2050, the tyre manufacturer is aiming to gradually transition to 100% sustainably produced materials in its tyre products.

Other strategies include using Russian dandelion as an alternative source of natural rubber, which Continental says will “prevent ongoing deforestation and reduce the carbon dioxide emissions caused by long transport routes”.

The industrialisation of the cultivation of dandelion rubber is the goal of the long-term Taraxagum project of Continental and the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME).

Taraxagum should in future be used for a range of other products, such as car and truck tyres, agricultural tyres and technical rubber goods. In addition to the IME, the project is embedded in a network with other key partners such as the Julius Kühn Institute and the plant breeder ESKUSA.

Meanwhile, Continental and Kordsa have, together, developed a new sustainable adhesive technology standard for bonding textile reinforcing materials with rubber compounds.

The new technology enables the bonding activation of textile reinforcing materials without the use of resorcinol and formaldehyde.

Continental is also actively promoting greater sustainability in the extraction of natural rubber through various strategic projects. The premium tyre manufacturer says it is pursuing the goals of creating better working conditions for smallholders, protecting existing rainforest areas, and ensuring greater transparency and knowledge in the natural rubber sector through digital systems.

Continental further also enables the use of reprocessed polyester obtained from recycled plastic bottles in its tyre production as of 2022. The new sustainable polyester yarn will be obtained from polyethylene terephthalate bottles by a mechanical process and will be used in the construction of the tyre carcass.

This can completely replace conventional polyester.

Additionally, Continental aims to increase the proportion of women in the first two management levels worldwide.

In 2020, the proportion of female managers at Continental was above 16% and Continental aims to increase this to 25% by 2025 by initiating numerous projects and programmes.