CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Four years from now, Bill Meyer, director of North Carolina's waste management division, wants to walk into a state legislative session with a tire around his neck and declare, ``Here's what your tax dollars can do.'' No, North Carolina isn't subsidizing tire production. But the state's environmental department has granted Continental General Tire Inc. (CGT) $1.2 million to research and develop recycled rubber content tires.
If the business-government venture proves successful, Mr. Meyer hopes to show off a General-brand tire with a recycled rubber content of 25 percent to the legislators.
The partnership began in July 1998 and has managed to recycle 500,000 scrap tires to date, according to CGT.
The state is paying the Charlotte-based tire maker $300,000 annually for four years to expand its recycled material usage.
``One year after applying the grant, we're recycling at a rate that keeps 12 million pounds of used tires out of landfills,'' said Ed Morant, CGT director of materials/radial light truck development, tire technology.
``Our goal for the next 12 months is to increase that rate of usage.''
Currently, CGT's radial passenger tires contain up to 6 percent recycled rubber material, while light truck tires contain as much as 4 percent, the company said.
The tire maker has used all of the crumb rubber from those 500,000 scrap tires to make new passenger, light truck and off-the-road tires, Mr. Morant told Tire Business, though he couldn't say how many new tires were created.
Some of the crumb came from recyclers in Pennsylvania and Mississippi because currently there is no operational tire recycling plant in North Carolina, he said.
Approximately 25 to 50 percent of the 6 million to 7 million scrap tires North Carolina generates goes to landfills, Mr. Meyer said. The rest is used for civil engineering applications such as river embankment projects.
The state has cleaned up most of its tire dumps with fees collected on new-tire sales, he said, but still wants to prohibit landfilling tires.
To fulfill that goal, the state has contracted with CGT to try to stimulate markets for scrap tires, he said.
North Carolina had initiated the venture by sending letters to all tire makers with facilities in the state requesting that they submit proposals for the grant, which would be earmarked for the research and development of recycled content tires, Mr. Meyer said. Only CGT responded and sent a proposal. Goodyear and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. (BFS) also have passenger tire plants in the state.
CGT began researching recycled rubber content tires several years ago, when Ford Motor Co. asked its suppliers to explore using recycled materials in their manufacturing processes.
Some of CGT's larger competitors also have experimented with recycled content tires.
Michelin North America supplies Ford Windstars with OE tires made with recycled tire rubber, said Red Hermann, Michelin's director of government affairs. The tires contain a recycled rubber content of 5 percent, though Michelin has tested tires with a recycled content of 10 percent and obtained positive results, he said.
At this time, Michelin has no immediate plans to expand its recycled content tire research beyond the Windstar OE fitment or to increase the recycled content in its tires to 10 percent, Mr. Hermann said.
BFS has used recycled rubber in agricultural tires since the early 1980s, a spokeswoman said, and very recently began supplying Ford with OE recycled rubber content tires.
The Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker declined to comment on the percentage of recycled rubber used in its tires, but said it's continuing to research ways to use recycled rubber in new-tire manufacturing.
Goodyear officials couldn't be reached for comment.
North Carolina has set a goal of up to 25 percent recycled rubber content in new tires, though Mr. Meyer admitted, ``If we can get as much as 10 to 15 percent crumb in a tire, with the amount of tires that are manufactured by (CGT), that will take care of our tire problem'' in the state.
Mr. Morant said CGT still is testing the possibility of a higher crumb rubber content and how it would affect tire durability and performance.
``It's one of those things where there's a limit, but you have to find that limit,'' he said.
The tire maker may not achieve the 25 percent mark without using devulcanized material with the crumb rubber, he said.