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Sumitomo trials fermentation and other pioneering chemical biorecycling technologies in new circular economy initiative

A trio of Sumitomo companies, along with a US recycling specialist, are combining their expertise to accelerate Sumitomo's circular economy efforts and advance effective waste recycling solutions across different sectors.

The joint venture between Sumitomo Rubber Industries, Ltd., Sumitomo Riko Company Limited, Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd. and LanzaTech is exploring cutting-edge technologies such as chemical recycling (gasification or pyrolysis) and fermentation. These processes convert waste materials such as rubber, resin, polyurethane and metal into valuable resources that can be reintegrated into the production cycle.

In addition to conserving resources, a key focus of this development is to minimise carbon dioxide emissions, a prominent greenhouse gas.

The aim of the partnership is to leverage LanzaTech's biorecycling technology to transform waste tyre materials into valuable raw components, notably isoprene, for further rubber production.

This involves converting waste materials into a gas within a specialised processing plant, followed by purification through a chemical process. The metals produced during gasification can also be recovered, recycled, and reused as raw materials. All other substances produced undergo a fermentation process, breaking down complex molecules into simpler compounds – producing new raw materials, including isoprenes, which can be utilised to create tyre compounds or resins.

Aligned with Sumitomo Rubber Industries, Ltd.'s circular economy concept, TOWANOWA – which combines ‘TOWA’ meaning ‘everlasting’ in Japanese, and ‘WA,’ meaning ‘ring,’ – the group is dedicated to conserving and optimising limited resources through recycling.

With Sumitomo Group's annual tyre sales volume around 110 million units, a certain amount is disposed of each year in the manufacture and sale of new tyres – many of which are repurposed for energy, utilised as fuel, employed within specialised facilities to generate electricity, or processed into rubber granulate.

“To bring the concept of TOWANOWA recycling to life, it is crucial to drive material reuse and recycling initiatives within our tyre business – and create a system that transforms discarded tyre materials into useful resources,” says Dr Bernd Löwenhaupt, Managing Director of Sumitomo Rubber Europe GmbH. “Collaboration across different sectors – including science, industry and government – is central to advancing recycling technology research and development.”

The announcement follows a joint development agreement established in November 2022, between Sumitomo Riko Company Ltd. And LanzaTech Global, Inc. (LanzaTech; Nasdaq: LNZA). In August 2023, Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. And Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd. announced that both firms would participate in the development of innovative processes – striving for a sustainable society and to achieve the goals of “TOWANOWA” faster.

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