AKRON—In 1992, the Florida Department of Transportation mandated crumb rubber use in asphalt for state-funded road projects. But only since October 1998, however, has Florida had a crumb rubber supplier to provide highway contractors with material.
Global Tire Recycling produced about 10,000 tons of crumb in its first year of operation, according to R. Brian Fifer, GTR founder, chairman and CEO. Two-thirds of that went to Florida's five asphalt blenders, which in turn supplied hundreds of highway contractors that bid on state projects.
Providing an in-state source of crumb rubber for highway projects was Mr. Fifer's main reason for founding GTR.
``With a growing population in Florida, road and highway construction has been growing just as fast,'' he said at the recent Rubber Expo '99, in Orlando, just 50 miles from GTR headquarters in Wildwood, Fla.
``And municipalities in Florida often use state specifications for their road projects as well,'' he said.
The company ground more than 1 million of Florida's scrap tires in its first year, and expects to increase that to 3 million in the coming years.
``Licensed haulers bring us scrap tires from all over the state, and generators pay us a tipping fee,'' Mr. Fifer said. ``So we're in the enviable position of being paid to accept our raw material.''
The environmental angle is crucial to both the state and Mr. Fifer, who pointed out that although GTR has no competitors within Florida, the state does not require asphalt blenders to buy their crumb in-state.
This means GTR must pay close attention to price and quality to compete with U.S. crumb suppliers.
``Ninety percent of the crumb rubber used here is coming from out of state, which does nothing to improve the disposal of scrap tires in Florida,'' he said.
Florida DOT requirements for road building specify that the top layer must contain at least 12 percent 40-mesh crumb, and the inner membrane must contain at least 5 percent 20-mesh crumb. GTR provides both grades of crumb in an ambient grinding operation, which provides the rough surface and superior binding qualities the state requires.
``Florida forbids cryogenically ground rubber in its asphalt, because the surface of the crumb is too smooth,'' Mr. Fifer said.
Nevertheless, GTR eventually plans to install a cryogenic line to supplement its ambient operation. Smaller, finer mesh is increasingly in demand from new-tire manufacturers under pressure from the auto makers to add recycled rubber to their compounds for original equipment tires.
Meanwhile, GTR is selling its current product to some rubber molders who make rubber tile, mats, roofing and soaker hoses—those who can use 20-, 30- or 40-mesh.
Also, the company provides GTR Soft-Fall material for playgrounds and other areas requiring a soft, springy surface.
GTR operates out of a 48,000-sq.-ft. facility on 11 acres in Wildwood, which lies halfway between Tampa and Gainesville.
It looks as if that space is needed. The company, which started out with 21 employees working one shift, has already gone to 37 workers and two shifts.Mr. Fifer expects GTR to grow further, to 55 employees and three shifts, by this time next year.
The company is privately held and does not release financial results, Mr. Fifer said.