Continental and digital tracking specialists Security Matters have used a chemical barcode to mark natural rubber, which can be read at every stage of the supply chain and even post-production process. The barcode helps identify the exact rubber used in a specific tyre.
As legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act and coming EU legislation puts pressure on OEMs to improve supply chain visibilty, tracking the sources of potentially unsustainable elements, such as natural rubber, becomes more important.
The automotive customer base is increasingly aware of the environmental impact of rubber sourcing. With lifecycle assessments of new cars’ manufacturing footprints, the tyres that they are shipped with are a crucial and visible part of how quickly vehicles can be made emission-neutral.
The process provided by Security Matters is effective because it adds a chemical marker through the product, which can then be read all the way along the supply of the material and even beyond, in the tyres that it is used to manufacture. The substance is added during the harvesting process of latex and is able to withstand both the production of raw, natural rubber and subsequently combining that with plastics to be made into tyres.
Tested with a bicyle tyre, it was possible to use a purpose-built software and reader to identify the rubber in the final product, from its origins. Continental reported that the appearance and performance of the tyre were completely unchanged, despite the chemical addition. The barcode is manufactured into the rubber from its point of origin and cannot be altered even as bricks of rubber are broken down into usable end product.
For Continental, a crucial element of tracing the supply chain is that any technology used to track the path of rubber has to be usable by smallholders who grow the crops. Security Matter’s chemical barcode was tested at a joint project run by Continental and the German development charity Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, working in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan. Local smallholders who supply rubber to the project, which is dedicated to sustainable supply chain tracking, were taught how to use the marker substances in the samples that then proved traceable into finished tyres.
Claus Petschick, the head of sustainability at Continental said: “We see huge potential in marker technology. In the future, it will help us to ensure that the natural rubber we use in our tyres is grown and sourced entirely responsibly. Over the long term, we believe that marker technology could help to make the sometimes highly complex processes in our supply chains more transparent and verifiable. With Security Matters, we have an innovative partner for the development and trialing of marker technology by our side.”
Continental is commited to using only sustainably-sourced rubber by 2030, with emphasis on smallholder products rather than mass plantation rubber, which has been heavily criticised for its impact on biodiversity and role in deforestation.