VICKSBURG, Miss.-Michael Rouse sees a bright future for scrap rubber recycling-and for his growing company, Rouse Rubber Industries Inc. The impetus for this positive attitude is a combination of rising raw materials costs that have rubber and plastic manufacturers taking a second look at incorporating recycled materials in their products, and the recycler's own improvements in producing a finer form of recycled rubber powder.
Over the years the Vicksburg-based company has been making improvements on its UltraFine technology, a wet fine-grind process that reduces scrap rubber to a fine crumb, even to a 200-mesh powder.
``The finer the powder, the more surface area you have exposed for bonding in the mixing process, when the recycled rubber and virgin rubber are compounded,'' Mr. Rouse, the company's CEO, explained. The compounds are most commonly used in the manufacturing of new products, such as automotive parts, tires and molded goods.
Recently, Rouse Rubber invested ``several million dollars'' to install ``state-of-the-art'' laboratory testing equipment in its Vicksburg plant in order to conduct quality assurance and quality control tests on its compounds, Mr. Rouse said.
``We took this action so customers can feel comfortable (about the quality of the compound) and due to the industry's demand for quality assurance. . . ,'' he said, adding ``And you have to as part of doing business.''
Calling the lab equipment a ``necessary capital expenditure,'' Mr. Rouse noted that since each manufacturer has its own formulation, Rouse Rubber has to tailor-fit its rubber compound to the individual client's needs. This requires analytical equipment that can match the polymers of a client's compounds and avoid cross-contamination of polymers, Mr. Rouse explained.
Rouse Rubber also will use its laboratory to help customers determine the mesh size and mix that best meets their requirements, he said.
The recent expansion and modernization also helped make the plant more efficient by improving the output per employee, Mr. Rouse said. The plant, which employees 90 people, has a capacity to process 72 million pounds of fine crumb a year.
Rouse Rubber's forte is custom regrinding of industrial scrap rubber. The plant, which Mr. Rouse considers ``a fully integrated processing facility,'' uses a number of grinding processes, including cryogenics and several ambient grinding systems. Rouse Rubber has the capability of producing fine powders from almost any scrap rubber source, including old tires, he said.
``Our focus is on technology that enhances the value of the product,'' he said. Rather than getting involved with disposal methods for scrap tires, such as tire-derived fuel and pyrolysis, ``we're trying to work with the in-stream in a cost-effective manner.''
The recycler prefers to use the client's factory waste, but also will use outside sources of scrap rubber, including scrap tires.
New-product manufacturers using recycled rubber in their compounding process usually use only 1 to 3 percent recycled powder, Mr. Rouse said. But with his company's technology, he hopes to increase that percentage.
The UltraFine process produces highly fractured particle surfaces with fairly precise particle size distribution, according to Mr. Rouse. The particle surface then can be chemically treated for bonding with other materials. The treatment varies depending on what properties the manufacturer requires for his compound, Mr. Rouse noted.
Rouse Rubber isn't interested in marketing or selling its UltraFine technology, Mr. Rouse said. Rather, the firm hopes to expand its own business by eventually opening additional recycling plants.
The company has been in business for seven years and has been turning a profit during the past few years, according to Mr. Rouse, who declined to provide details. But the business isn't easy.
``You need a lot of dedication and a lot of capital. A lot of people try to do business on a shoestring budget,'' he said.
``Recycling, if done right-if you get the right equipment, the right product, the right people. . . you have a positive future. But you've got to understand the industry,'' he said.