Tired of tyre waste, UK startup takes action


The world’s biggest tyre graveyard in Kuwait City’s Sulaibiya district buries 7m tyres – a landfill so vast that it can be seen from space. With car production set to hit 98.9m per year by 2025, the challenge of tyre waste becomes clearer.

Various end-of-life (ELT) treatment methods have been employed to deal with this waste including recycling and re-treading. But more needs to be done to solve this problem.

A UK-based waste-to-fuel company wants to convert these ELT tyres to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) via pyrolysis.

“Let’s say we have one ton of ELT. The first step is to remove the steel component which makes up around 200kg of the ton. Once steel is removed, we take the remaining 800kg to the pyrolysis reactor. Out of this, more or less, 400kg would become tyre pyrolysis oil (TPO). Approximately 280kg would be recovered into carbon black – carbon powder that’ s dispersed into rubber in that time to make it more durable and have other benefits,” explains Vianney Vales, CEO, Wastefront while talking to SAF Investor.

In pyrolysis, scrap tyres are shredded and heated up in a special chamber without oxygen. This intense heat breaks down the rubber s molecular bonds, but without burning, separating the materials that make up the tyre.

The process, by Vales estimates, creates zero waste and ensures 100% of the ELTs are recycled to create clean steel and TPO.

With TPO extracted from ELTs, it can be processed into SAF in two ways. “TPO can either be co-processed in existing refineries, because it has similar properties as the crude oil (even better in some chemical reactions), or in a standalone refinery which can process 100% TPO to convert it into SAF,” said Vales.

Wastefront is already supplying TPO to some refineries for co-processing into fuel primarily gasoline. Moreover, it is developing a waste tyre recovery project in Sunderland (UK) to produce SAF.

At full capacity, the Sunderland plant will be Europe’s largest tyres-to-fuel facility, offsetting 2.7m tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime. The site can process 100% of the TPO into SAF. However, converting it to SAF requires ASTM approval which Vales says should come over the next year or so. 

On the cost front, Vales claims it is significantly cheaper than HEFA or alcohol-to-jet (AtJ) pathways, which currently account for the major chunk of online and planned SAF production capacity around the world.

“It is immediately cost competitive. We expect the cost of production, including capex and opex of all different steps, plus the cost of feedstock, everything included to be below $1,000 per tonne for SAF,” explains Vales.

To put this in context, SAF produced using the HEFA pathway costs $1,485 per tonne as of June 13th. The cost of producing SAF via the alcohol-to-jet (AtJ) pathway is even higher.

Once scaled, TPO can kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, it can solve the problem of recycling ELTs, whereas on the other hand it can help decarbonise the aviation sector.

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