Tyre manufacturer Continental is testing CO2-neutral tyre production at its mega plant in Lousado, Portugal.

With an annual production capacity of 18 million tyres, an electric boiler fueled on green electricity replaces an old gas boiler to create steam for the manufacturing process.

“This is a significant step to achieving our goal of completely CO2-neutral production and is, in part, due to the generation of steam using an innovative boiler that operates entirely on electricity,” said head of manufacturing and logistics Dr Bernhard Trilken.

Continental uses both self-generated solar power and renewable electricity from the power grid for its steam generation. Prior to this, natural gas was used as a sole energy source for steam generation at the plant.

Thermal energy

A high proportion of the energy consumed in tyre production is used to generate steam, which is needed to heat the tyres in a process known as vulcanisation.

The thermal energy turns the raw rubber into flexible and elastic rubber. By 2040, at the latest, Continental wants to switch all tyre plants completely to CO2-neutral production processes.

“In Lousado, we are demonstrating that even very large tyre plants can achieve CO2-neutral production. To do so, the availability of renewable energy sources at competitive prices is crucial. We are preparing all our plants so that they can use as much renewable energy as possible.”

The new electric steam boiler converts solar and other green electricity into steam with almost no losses.

Water is pumped from the bottom of the boiler to the top, where it is sprayed on to electrodes. Electric current flows through the water jets and creates heat inside the water until it evaporates to steam.

A conventional gas boiler will continue to be available in addition to the new electric steam boiler. This allows Continental to react flexibly to the fluctuating availability of renewable energies and other environmental factors.

“The commissioning of our electric steam boiler in Lousado is the start of an exciting learning curve,” concluded Dr Trilken.