Energy efficient rubber tyre recycling: transforming old rubber into new
CSIRO is working with an Australian company VR TEK Operations Pty Ltd to design and develop a tyre-segmenting device and processes aimed at addressing the problem caused by waste tyres.
1 December 2009 | Updated 14 October 2011
Used tyres accumulate in their millions every year and present a serious environmental problem.
At present, tyres are almost impossible to recycle economically and are virtually indestructible. As a result millions of tyres are simply dumped every year around the world.
Some fast facts about waste tyres
In Australia in 2006, approximately 20 million tyres (260 000 tonnes per annum) presented into the waste stream as end-of-life tyres. Of these, approximately:
23 per cent of rubber was recovered for tyre-derived products (TDP)
64 per cent of tyres were dumped as landfill
14 per cent were illegally dumped.
(Department of Environment and Heritage, 2006, Market Failure in End-of-life Tyre Disposal)
Environmental and health risks
End-of-life, dumped or stored tyres present risks to the environment, human health and public amenity. Some of these risks include:
Recycling and conservation of end-of-life tyres benefits us by:
VR TEK's recycling process will enable waste tyres to be turned back into high quality devulcanised and activated rubber powders free of metal contamination for redevelopment as new products, such as new tyres and elasto-polymer based items.
transforming waste material into marketable products, such as new tyres, elasto-polymer based rubber products, industrial insulation, road pavement, industrial and domestic flooring, or geotextiles for retaining walls and embankments
converting waste to energy as tyre-derived fuel
recycling rubber is a cheaper and more energy-efficient option than producing virgin materials
tyre-derived products have low ongoing production costs, once the infrastructure is in place, providing cash-flow benefits to industry
creating savings on greenhouse gas emissions
conserving natural resources that would otherwise be wasted.
What VR TEK Operations Pty Ltd has developed
Shredded tyres contain metal and can not be reused as rubber without substantial expense.
This problem is a key reason for the low percentage of tyres currently used for rubber recovery, despite worldwide demand.
Australian company VR TEK Operations Pty Ltd (VR TEK) has developed the idea for an economically-viable recycling of end-of-life tyres.
The company has obtained an Australian Patent for a device which segments old tyres into sections of specific known material composition.
The mechanical segmenting method is highly energy efficient and is the first part of a process which incorporates downstream devulcanization* and activation phases resulting in high quality rubber powders.
CSIRO, together with VR TEK, is developing a proof of concept and prototype for the tyre-segmenting device, as well as an evaluation of downstream processes.
The whole process will enable waste tyres to be turned back into high quality devulcanized and activated rubber powders (down to 80 - 120 mesh size) free of metal contamination for redevelopment as new products, such as new tyres and elasto-polymer based items.
This process is energy efficient, commercially viable and environmentally responsible.
Mr Barrie Finnin, CSIRO General Manager Advanced Engineered Components is leading a team to assist VR TEK with this three phase project.
The VR Tek project is currently jointly funded by the Advanced Manufacturing CRC, the Victoria Government through VCAMM and by VR Tek Operations Pty. Ltd.
Advanced Manufacturing CRC involvement
After a rigorous assessment of the VR TEK project plan and commercialisation strategy, the Advanced Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (AMCRC) made the decision to support the project because it was closely aligned with its policy of co-investment with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in innovation for sustainability.
Through the VR-TEK project, AMCRC is implementing its agenda of assisting SMEs to commercialise innovations that have a real potential to make a positive and significant impact for Australia’s future.
National Environment Protection Measures (NEPM)
The National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) comprises environment ministers from the Australian Government and each state and territory.
Its purpose is to ensure that Australians enjoy the benefit of equivalent protection from air, water or soil pollution and from noise wherever they live.
The NEPC, together with the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) addresses broad national policy issues relating to environmental protection, particularly in regard to air, water, and waste matters. NEPMs are part of this initiative.
In June 2007, NEPC/EPHC resolved to develop a NEPM for tyres and in 2008 released a public consultation package outlining a joint industry/government approach to whole-of-life management of tyres.
Industry and governments expect the proposed approach to drive innovation, decrease environmental impacts and build end-of-life management costs into product prices.
The future outlook
VR TEK anticipates that the NEPM will provide a mechanism to provide market-based incentives for tyre recycling (similar to what is currently done with paper, aluminium and glass), as well as to ban all tyres from landfill to enforce recycling.
They hope that the NEPM will encourage collection and return of tyres for recycling, thus reducing the current practices of landfill and burning.
The goal of CSIRO and VR TEK is a 50 per cent increase in waste tyre recycling.
Broader goals are to:
Find out more about Mr Barrie Finnin: leading the advanced engineered components team.
*devulcanization of rubber
The process of devulcanization involves treating rubber in granular form with heat and/or softening agents in order to restore its elastic qualities and enable the rubber to be reused.
Established and supported under the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program.