By Mike McNulty, Crain News Service
MESA, Ariz. (Aug. 13, 2013) — ENSO Plastics L.L.C. is moving quickly to gain a foothold in the rubber industry with new technology that a company official said accelerates the natural biodegradation of synthetic rubber in landfills.
The producer of biodegradable and biobased products has come out with a new technology, ENSO Restore RL, that ushers in a new age for rubber, according to Teresa Clark, vice president of product development for the Mesa-based company.
Restore RL "is a unique material designed not only to attract specific naturally occurring microorganisms, but also to induce rapid microbial acclimatization to synthetic rubbers and resulting biodegradation," Ms. Clark said.
"The method of biodegradation caused is strictly enzymatic and is designed to utilize naturally occurring microorganisms within waste environments, including landfills."
Its new development opens the door for ENSO to begin servicing the rubber industry, she said. Previously, it primarily served the plastics sector.
Basically, the company has transferred its knowledge of biodegradable plastics to the rubber industry to develop Restore RL, Ms. Clark said. The rubber industry, she noted, has produced little technology regarding environmental remediation until Restore came along.
From plastics to rubber
"We were founded in 2007 to find solutions for plastic waste, and at the time we didn't have a product," she said. "We ended up forming a joint venture, and eventually the company came to market with a product for the plastics industry."
"We're a young company that's growing," said Ms. Clark, one of the firm's founders.
She discussed ENSO and the new technology at the International Latex Conference, held July 23-24 in Fairlawn, a suburb of Akron. At the meeting she also gave a presentation titled, "Advancements in Rubber and Latex Disposal—Biodegradation and the Environment."
Restore RL is an additive used during the manufacturing of rubber products "in such a way as to disperse the additive throughout the matrix of the rubber," she said.
It does not "involve an initial abiotic breakdown as is seen with degradable products in other industries," according to Ms. Clark. "A novel aspect of this material is its inertness to the host rubber resin; it does not contribute directly to any degradation of the rubber, thus leaving the shelf life of the rubber article intact."
She said independent laboratory testing shows nitrile treated with Restore biodegrades about 17 percent in the first 20 days compared to nitrile showing no biodegradation during the same time frame.
Similar biodegradation test results were found in polychloroprene, polyurethane and other synthetic materials when treated with the product, the executive said.
According to Ms. Clark, the material increases the biodegradation of synthetic rubber within natural microbial and municipal landfill environments.
"Given the unique properties of rubber materials, the overall use of rubber for a large number of applications is constantly on the rise and becoming an ever increasing focus of concern … not only in industrialized countries but also in less developed nations," she said.
The ENSO executive said testing shows significant increases in the rate of biodegradation in various synthetic rubbers when treated with Restore RL "and with the biodegradation being in anaerobic environments offers a unique waste disposal solution."
Restore's purpose is to impact biodegradability without affecting the physical characteristics or the shelf stability of treated rubber products, Ms. Clark said, which is in contrast to other methods, including degrading materials through oxygen or UV exposure, which risks the stability of rubber goods.
This report appeared in Rubber & Plastics News, an Akron-based sister publication of Tire Business.