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Tyres - are we just going round in circles?

May 20, 2023


In this blog Paul Glass discusses tyres, how they affect our carbon footprint, and what to do about them.


It's no surprise - reliance on fossil fuels is the most visible and highlighted topic by environmentalists today when it comes to climate change. Carbon emissions in motorsport are most associated with the fossil fuels used in competition and will always be the biggest risk for the perception of motorsport.


No-one really talks about tyres - which is interesting, as tyres are as essential, and have a significant impact on the amount of fuel used and therefore on a car's carbon footprint and emissions.


a picture of tyres with the caption the environmental impact of tyres is a little understood or quantifiable topic

How do tyres affect our carbon footprint?

Whether used in competition or road use, the environmental impact of tyres is a little understood or quantifiable topic. Most sources give an average lifetime for a tyre in road use of 20,000 miles or 10 years. Compare that to a special stage rally, where tyres can wear out in a matter of miles and minutes.


It’s interesting to compare this ratio to the amount of fuel consumed by a average road car vs. that of a competition vehicle. According to Statista, the average fuel consumption in the UK of a petrol road car was 5.4 litres per 100km, whereas in rallying that figure can easily be over 60 litres per 100km for a R5 car – more than 10 times as much.

Road Car

Rally Car

Factor

Tyre life

20,000 miles

????

????

Fuel consumption

5.4 litres per 100 km

1.9 gals per 100 miles

60 litres per 100 km

21.1 gals per 100 miles

11 x

Reasonably, you might expect that we could apply a similar factor to our hypothetical rally car's tyres. But when we apply a factor of 10, it gives us a competition tyre life of 2000 miles - which I think we can agree is unrealistic.


Most competitors would probably expect a rally tyre to last around 200 miles, which bumps up our comparative ratio to 100 x that of a road car.


Suddenly, tyres look as though they actually create the biggest difference in consumption.

Road Car

Rally Car

Factor

Tyre life

20,000 miles

200 miles

100 x

Fuel consumption

5.4 litres per 100 km

1.9 gals per 100 miles

60 litres per 100 km

21.1 gals per 100 miles

11 x

It's therefore no surprise to see governing bodies across the sport attempt to introduce restrictions in the number of tyres used, for environmental reasons.

Limiting tyres in competition use is a hot topic with competitors – for some at the highest level of the sport, where seconds really count, it can potentially mean the difference between positions. For others like this low powered car writer, it’s not such an issue.


The arguments about limiting tyres where conditions change suddenly on safety grounds is a topic I will leave for others, but is always my biggest concern.


But the hot discussions on social media over the last year reminded me about our ambition to provide carbon offsetting for tyres. You would think it would be a simple thing, but it’s not.


A picture of a rally tyre with the caption After two years of research, we found very few studies available that tried to quantify the full carbon footprint of a tyre

With fuel, consumption can be easily measured and converted to a CO2e equivalent using government approved factors. Unfortunately tyres really are in the emission shadows. After two years of research, we found very few studies available that tried to quantify the full carbon footprint of a tyre, and no study that could provide a reliable or certified basis to create such an offset. The only government conversion factors that exist are based on tyre disposal, not consumption.


Our best estimation - based on US research - was that if you competed on a rally, you would generate four times more carbon from tyres than the equivalent fuel – and that really was an estimate, and not one we would want to legitimately base an offer on.


It's true to say that tyre manufacturers are taking measures to reduce emissions, including changing their manufacturing processes, using lower carbon compounds, and focusing on reduced carbon emissions from improved fuel consumption from their tyres.


I’ve driven using low emission tyres on the road, and I can’t say I was impressed, in one case even throwing away a set of new tyres to go back to proper rubber!


They gave poor braking and unstable car control in everyday use, and all that in a car with less than 100 bhp. So when it comes to tyres – those little footprints that connect us to the road – then I take a no compromise approach, and for competitors with many more bhp I can understand their concerns.


A picture of a rally car tyre spitting dust and gravel with the caption when it comes to tyres – those little footprints that connect us to the road – we need a no compromise approach,

During the recent heated social media debates that went round in circles, there were two things that stuck with me.


As a sport - tyres really connect us all.

In a true circular and environmentally responsible style, many of us rely on competitors who have the funds to invest in new tyres, so that we have a steady supply of good used tyres that are perfectly suitable for our needs, and help offset the cost of new tyres for the competitors selling off their used ones.


Everything comes full circle.

The only valid research into the subject states that the use of recycled tyres gives around a 30% reduction in comparable tyre carbon emissions in the manufacturing process. Many of an older generation will fondly remember the use of such tyres was far more prevalent in previous decades of the sport.


In conclusion

When considering the environmental impact and governance of tyres, safety must come first, and perhaps more needs to be done to provide affordable good quality recycled tyres suitable for competition. Finally, when you do have to dispose, do so offsetting the disposal for peace of mind that you have done your part as the final user for the good of the sport.


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