Sustainability
Published: April 17, 2024
Sustainability
Published: April 17, 2024

Inês Brandão: Better Rubber Meets the Road

Tire manufacturers have always searched for materials that achieve the industry’s “magic triangle” of lower rolling resistance, increased traction and improved wear resistance. That triangle is now morphing into a square with the addition of sustainability. Helping customers navigate this shape shifting is Inês Brandão, our key account manager for tires and batteries in the EMEA region.

Sustainability: The Talk of the Tire Industry

A chemical engineer by training, Inês moved into her current role when she joined us in 2022. Her prior two decades of sales and product management experience in the rubber, chemicals and related industries prepared her to manage our precipitated silica sales for large tire and battery manufacturers. She also serves as a bridge between these customers and other areas of our company, such as technical and research and development, from our office in Porto, Portugal.

The tire industry is the largest user of our precipitated silicas. It’s an industry undergoing a significant shift, which was unmistakenly evident at the recent Tire Technology Expo 2024 in Hanover, Germany.

“I walked around the expo, taking pictures of every booth. About 80% of them highlighted sustainability in the tire manufacturing process, specifically the use of bio-based raw materials, reduced energy consumption and a smaller carbon footprint. Most of our customers have goals to use 40% or more sustainably sourced raw materials by 2035. Tire performance remains important, but sustainability is what everyone is talking about in the industry.”

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Performance Silica Precipitates Industry Breakthrough

In simple terms, precipitated silica is sand that’s chemically burned using caustic soda, transforming into a glass-like material called cullet. This material next goes through an acidification process followed by a step that extracts all the water. The white powder that precipitates out of this process is precipitated silica.

Precipitated silica is used in tires as a reinforcement filler to help lower rolling resistance, increase traction and improve wear resistance. To activate these properties, tire manufacturers mix the silica with silane and heat the blended materials to 160˚ C. This means two mixing passes to combine all of a tire’s materials in a process called compounding.

In 2010, we introduced AGILON® performance silica to the tire market. We produce this breakthrough product by precipitating silica and silane together to form a single finished compounding solution. This eliminates one of the two traditional mixing steps for tire manufacturers and also reduces the temperature required for compounding by 50% or more.

The product quickly became the industry standard due to its manufacturing and performance benefits. Tire manufacturers have a time efficiency benefit of up to 30% because of the single mixing pass. Energy use and related greenhouse gas emissions are significantly less due to lower heating temperatures, and emissions of volatile organic compounds are also reduced.

These cost and sustainability benefits don’t come at the expense of tire performance. In fact, Agilon performance silica delivers a better magic triangle compared to traditional silica and black carbon fillers. These benefits will be elevated this year with the introduction of Agilon Next-Gen performance silica. The new product offers a higher surface area, which is critical for rubber reinforcement.

“We’re also working with some partners to find a bio-based raw material for the production of our precipitated silicas. We currently produce our silicas from sand, but they also can be produced using organic raw materials like rice husks. We’re researching the options with our partners.”

Raising Her Voice to Break Ground

While her products are breaking performance barriers, Inês is breaking ground for women. She’s often the only woman in industry meetings, but that’s something she’s comfortable with because of her upbringing.

“My father was a true feminist. Ever since I was a little girl, he told me that I could do anything that I wanted to but that it was going to be tough as a female. He said I had to fight to have a voice and ask for what I wanted. One of the things that makes me #PPGProud besides the wonderful people that I work with in silicas is how my company is committed to equality and giving women opportunities to grow and be heard. I’m fortunate, because my friends and peers in other companies tell me how they’re treated and paid differently than their male counterparts.”

Inês has found the voice her father wanted her to have, and she’s using it to help other women in Portugal and around the world find theirs. She writes a weekly blog for an online publication called Executiva, which brings attention to what women in all kinds of areas are doing and how they’ve grown professionally. She’s also a frequent presenter at the publication’s seminars.

I think I can inspire women by being an example of how to work in a male-dominated industry and deal with any issues that arise.
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