By Patrick Raleigh, ERJ On-line news editor
Brussels-European Commission proposals to end the use of polycyclic-aromatic-hydrocarbon-rich (PAH-rich) extender oils in tyres by the end of 2008 are unworkable, according to rubber industry group BLIC (Bureau de Liaison des Industries Caoutchouc).
The EC ban covers extenders containing over 10mg/kg of listed PAHs. Such additives have already been phased out of winter passenger car tyres and truck & bus tyres-in response to concerns about their potential toxicity.
PAH-rich oils are, however, still important for the production of summer passenger car tyres, where they enhance processing, and, more critically, road-grip performance.
Industry has been working to phase out PAH-rich oils for the past few years, according to Fazilet Cinaralp, secretary general of Brussels-based BLIC. However, completion of this work will take at least a year longer than the EC is proposing, she said.
â€œThis substitution started several years ago, is a very complicated process and cannot be completed before December 2009,â€ Cinaralp commented in a telephone interview.
Much of this work is focused on developing test methods to measure the PAH content in the oil and to identify the oil in the tyre, according to BLIC's secretary general. The EC proposal is not viable without these tests, she said.
DIN (the German Institute for Standardization) is currently developing tests for measuring PAH-content in the oil, while ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is looking at the identification of oil in the tyre. It is still unclear how long this work will take, said Cinaralp.
But, she continued, these tests are necessary to ensure â€œa level playing field for all the players in this market, so that not only the European producers have to comply with such demanding requirements, but also the importers.â€
Meanwhile, the tyre industry is also concerned about the availability of the main alternatives to PAH-rich oils-MES (Mild Extraction Solvate) and TDAE (Treated Distillate Aromatic Extract).
Industry would require 60 percent TDAE and 40 percent of MES to meet European demand for the currently used aromatic oils, which is estimated at about 250 kilotonnes, according to Cinaralp.
â€œCurrently the projected availability of the TDAE would be only 120kt compared to the 150kt need to meet demand. So â€¦ we will be short of oil,â€ she said.
The EC's phase out proposal will next be discussed at the European Parliament and then at the Council of Ministers of the EU Member States.
BLIC expects that discussions will start by early October within the European Parliament and last for about a year, according to its secretary general.
Meanwhile, said Cinaralp, â€œWe need to work with the Commission on this proposal. I think they understand the problems. If there is not sufficient progress on these aspects, I am sure the Commission is responsible enough to reconsider its own proposals.â€
Whatever the outcome of the various talks, BLIC foresees the phase out having a big impact on the European tyre industry, and not just because the alternatives are two or three times more expensive than the current oils.
â€œYou also have to add the development and testing cost, the investment in plant, because it means that the oil tanks, the piping, etc need to be completely new,â€ said Cinaralp.
â€œWhen you multiply that by the number of tyre plant there are in Europe plus the testing of formulations and the tyres first on the laboratory scale then on the roads for field testing then you have an idea of the cost impact. It is a big challenge,â€ she concluded.