The world of tire recycling is expanding with dizzying speed, and now we can add Lehigh Technologies’s deep freeze to the mix. The company has come up with a new tire recycling process that produces a fine powder instead of the crumbs and nuggets produced by conventional recycling.
As reported by Phil McKenna of Technology Review, the new process involves freezing shredded tires in a bath of liquid nitrogen which chills them down to minus 100 degrees Centigrade, and then smashing them to smithereens. Sounds simple, but sometimes simpler is better: the World Economic Forum placed Lehigh and its new recycling process among its 2010 Technology Pioneers, under the tantalizing theme of “Embracing Disruption.”
Tire Recycling and Disruption Embracing
In selecting its awardees, the World Economic Forum looked beyond companies with groundbreaking products and focused on those that are “redesigning business and society with their disruptive innovations.” That certainly speaks to the urgency of tire recycling! Currently more than 300 million tires are ditched every year in the U.S. alone, and most of those are simply dumped in landfills or burned for fuel, mainly at cement plants (that’s a whole ‘nother story). The U.S. population is growing and the advent of smaller and cheaper electric cars will likely put more drivers on the road, so unless anything changes drastically the number of discarded tires is bound to grow.
The Cryogenic Solution
According to Lehigh, its ultra-fine recycled powder is orders of magnitude finer than conventional rubber crumbs or nuggets, which basically means that it can be integrated into a new manufactured product while retaining the performance characteristics of rubber. In other words, as McKenna notes, the fine powder bonds with other materials, in contrast to larger particles that are chemically inert. Lehigh also recycles its own recycled tires by enabling its customers to send their waste back to rejoin the feedstock.
The Crowded Field of Tire Recycling
Lehigh adds its name to a fast-growing list of innovative companies in what has become a latter day gold rush that is creating new green jobs. That includes industry giant Magnum D’Or (proud owner of one of the world’s largest tire dumps), InfoSpi (specializing in tire-to-oil recycling and carbon black recovery), Carbolytic Materials Co. L.L.C. (recovering “green” carbon black for recycling in products like hoses, gaskets and roofing), and PMGI/Productive Recycling (mixing scrap tire with concrete to form landscaping blocks).
Image: Tire by xJasonRogersx on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.