BIR Convention: Tire and rubber a 'dynamic' segment of recycling industry

BIR Convention: Tire and rubber a 'dynamic' segment of recycling industry

Speakers at the Bureau of International Recycling Tyres & Rubber Committee discuss technology advances and recycled-content demand.

Industry experts at the most recent Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) Tyres & Rubber Committee meeting in late May suggested tires and rubber have rapidly developed into "one of the most dynamic segments of the recycling industry after having been previously viewed as the "poor relation," and Max Craipeau of Hong Kong-based Greencore Resources Ltd. said the sector is gaining "unprecedented traction" as the result of what he calls numerous emerging possibilities for breathing new life into tires and other rubber products.

According to Craipeau, current estimated demand in Europe for recycled rubber of 200,000 metric tons annually is expected to increase fivefold over the next 25 years. Sonia Megert, chief operating officer of Swiss sustainable technology developer Tyre Recycling Solutions SA, added projections of a compound annual growth rate of more than 10 percent for the global recycled rubber market from 2020 to 2028. 

Megert, participating in the meeting as a guest speaker, said recycled content in tires still is "very limited," but noted that new technologies have the potential to significantly increase proportions and added that 10 percent to 15 percent recycled content is achievable in tire treads, compared with the current 5-percent maximum.

According to Megert, Tyre Recycling Solutions SA had formed a "successful partnership" with Germany synthetic rubber manufacturer Synthos based around its water pulse jet system for pulverizing tire tread into a fine powder of what she called "very stable composition" for use in tires and other vehicle applications. Synthos Global Key Account Manager Christian Lemke said the major attractions of this solution are product consistency, level of certification and global scalability, with the possibility of establishing capacity where the demand exists.

Many investors and high-profile investors are now "stepping into the game" of tire and rubber recycling because of perceived technological readiness of high-volume solutions for providing sustainably produced raw materials, according to Robert Weibold, managing director of German tire recycling and pyrolysis consultant firm Robert Weibold GmbH. He also said the economics of recycling processes had been altered because customers now are prepared to pay significantly more for sustainably produced tire.

Martin von Wolfersdorff, a rubber recycling and recovered carbon black (RCB) expert with Germany-based Wolfersdorff Consulting, who co-moderated the session with Craipeau, described this process as a "change from a push to a pull," explaining that companies previously had struggled to push recycled products into a competitive marketplace, whereas now demand favors such products because end customers want to boost sustainability credentials.

When asked how manufacturers can evaluate the options for incorporating recycled content, such as RCB, devulcanized rubber and micronized rubber powder, von Wolfersdorff said tire producers are looking for what he calls the "smart combination" of all the materials based on considerations of quality consistency, supply-chain length, availability and price.

The BIR convention was held May 22-25 in Barcelona.