Having been viewed only a handful of years ago as the “poor relation”, tyres and rubber have rapidly developed into “one of the most dynamic segments of the recycling industry”, according to Max Craipeau of Hong Kong-based Greencore Resources Ltd. Chairing the latest meeting of the BIR Tyres & Rubber Committee, he explained that the sector was gaining “unprecedented traction” as a result of the “numerous emerging possibilities for breathing new life into tyres and other rubber products”.
In Europe alone, Mr Craipeau pointed out, current estimated demand for recycled rubber of 200,000 tonnes per annum was expected to increase fivefold over the next 25 years. Guest speaker Sonia Megert, COO of Swiss sustainable technology developer Tyre Recycling Solutions SA, noted projections of a compound annual growth rate of more than 10% for the global recycled rubber market in the period from 2020 to 2028.
Recycled content in tyres was “still very limited”, she said, but latest technologies had the potential to increase the proportions significantly. For example, she indicated in her presentation that a recycled content of 10-15% was achievable in tyre treads compared to a current maximum of 5%.
As she explained at the meeting, her company had forged a successful partnership with German synthetic rubber manufacturer Synthos based around the Water Pulse jet system for pulverizing tyre tread into a fine powder of “very stable composition” for use in tyres and other vehicle applications. According to Synthos’ Global Key Account Manager Christian Lemke, the major attractions of this solution were product consistency, level of certification and global scaleability, with the possibility of establishing capacity where the demand existed.
According to Robert Weibold, Managing Director of tyre recycling and pyrolysis consultancy Robert Weibold GmbH in Germany, many investors and high-profile corporations were now “stepping into the game” because of the perceived technological readiness of high-volume solutions for providing sustainably-produced raw materials. Also importantly, the economics of recycling processes had been altered because customers were now prepared to pay significantly more for a sustainably-produced tyre.
Co-moderating the discussions with Mr Craipeau, rubber recycling and recovered carbon black (RCB) expert Martin von Wolfersdorff of Germany-based Wolfersdorff Consulting described this process as “a change from a push to a pull”. In the past, he explained, companies had struggled to push recycled products into a competitive marketplace whereas demand now favoured such products because end customers wanted to boost their sustainability credentials.
In response to a question from Mr Craipeau about how manufacturers evaluated the various options for incorporating recycled content, such as recovered carbon black, devulcanized rubber and micronized rubber powder, Mr Von Wolfersdorff said tyre producers were looking for “the smart combination of all these materials”, based on the key considerations of quality consistency, length of supply chains, availability and, to some extent, price.
Policy-makers in Europe had finally understood that creation of a Circular Economy was not simply a matter of recycling targets “but also how you create a demand and how you become more sustainable at the design stage”, observed Emmanuel Katrakis, Secretary General of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation. In this context, he welcomed moves at the European level to expand eco-design regulations via the Sustainable Products Initiative, entailing separate legislation for each of the prioritized streams.
Mr Katrakis was joined by Mr von Wolfersdorff and Mr Weibold in underlining the market benefits if end-of-waste criteria were to be harmonized across Europe.