WASHINGTON—Scrap tire recycling is a rapidly changing industry, and 2013 brought many of those changes to the forefront.
Shifting markets plus advancing technology are driving change in scrap tire recycling, said Michael Blumenthal, Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) vice president and one of the top scrap tire experts in the U.S., in a May 2013 interview.
Reductions in the use of tire-derived fuel (TDF)—long the industry's end-use leader—caused scrap tire utilization rates to fall to 81.6 percent in 2012 from 89.3 percent in 2011, Mr. Blumenthal noted. “Our focus is shifting toward rubber-modified asphalt, and to finding new and different markets for ground rubber,” he said.
In October 2012, Mr. Blumenthal and other speakers at the Rubber Recycling Symposium in Toronto had already celebrated the upsurge for rubberized asphalt use.
“The time is right for rubberized asphalt, because the price of conventional asphalt has gone up,” he said at the symposium.
Doug Carlson, vice president-asphalt products at Liberty Tire Recycling L.L.C., added that rubberized asphalt's cracking resistance, noise-dampening properties and excellent traction also helped the material gain acceptance.
Rubber-modified asphalt now averages $520 a ton, Mr. Carlson said, compared with $550 a ton for conventional asphalt.
State governments showed growing interest in rubberized asphalt in 2013. Leading the way was California, which offered “Green Roads” workshops in January and February exploring best practices for using rubberized asphalt in highway projects. This was the latest in a long series of efforts by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) to promote use of the material within the state.
Following in October, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill establishing a $10 million grant program to help California cities, counties and regional agencies offset the cost of rubberized asphalt in road projects.
Under the program, CalRecycle will award grants of $2 for every 12 pounds of crumb rubber used, though the agency has the power to adjust that amount as necessary.
Georgia state Rep. Randy Nix, R-La Grange, with input from Liberty Tire Recycling executives, worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation to amend the agency's road specifications to allow the use of rubberized asphalt.
Along with rubberized asphalt, other recycled tire technologies—including some that previously had been downplayed or discounted—made news in 2013.
Titan International Inc. established Titan Tire Reclamation Corp. (TTRC), a joint venture between Titan and Green Carbon L.L.C.—a Georgia-based company headed by Titan CEO Maurice Taylor Jr.'s brother, Fred Taylor—to tackle the problem of scrapped OTR tires.
Titan's Mr. Taylor estimated TTRC could generate $250 million or more a year in the sale of reclaimed oil, carbon black and steel.
Fred Taylor has claimed his firm's hybrid recycling process can break down whole tires of any size into usable carbon black, oil and steel.
Unlike pyrolysis, which destroys the structure of carbon black and turns it into char, the TTRC process creates carbon black that can be incorporated into tire manufacturing, Fred Taylor said. An average passenger tire can produce 7.5 pounds of carbon black under his process, he said.
Several formulas for rubber devulcanization have been introduced, but none has been commercially successful. One company, however, claimed to have solved that problem.
Terramix S.A., a Costa Rican manufacturer of rubber gaskets for potable water pipe systems, has thousands of pounds a day of factory scrap, said Mark Weih, Terramix executive vice president, at the Clemson University Tire Industry Conference in April.
To deal with that waste, Terramix developed a proprietary, thermomechanical method to restore the virgin properties of the scrap, according to Mr. Weih.
Laboratory tests show that an agricultural tire made with 10-percent devulcanized rubber retains 90 percent of its physical properties while costing 7 percent less to make than a conventional agricultural tire, Mr. Weih said.
The most traditional method of recycling tires—retreading—also showed strength in 2013.
An International Trade Commission report issued at the beginning of the year showed the value of U.S. retread production increased 35 percent from 2009 through 2011, with retread exports increasing 17 percent during the period.
Optimism abounded in the tire recycling sector in 2013. Liberty Tire CEO Jeffrey Kendall predicted “a terrific growth market” for tire recycling in a July interview. Mr. Kendall was particularly bullish on rubberized asphalt, though he also noted that crumb rubber for molded goods has been growing nicely and should continue to grow.
Meanwhile, Boris Mergell, head of material and process engineering at Continental A.G., predicted it would be possible to make tires out of 100-percent renewable materials by 2020.
In legal and government matters, however, the news was more mixed. Liberty Tire found itself in May having to mount a defense against claims by Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc. that it sold thousands of recalled Kumho Solus KH25 tires as used tires. Liberty Tire said Kumho never informed it of the recall until after the tires were sold.
Meanwhile, the RMA made headway in the Texas and Florida legislatures with its model bill setting stringent rules for the tires to be sold in the used tire market. Neither the Texas nor the Florida bill ultimately passed, however.
In Canada, Ontario Tire Stewardship faced protests in April from the OTR tire community when it imposed stiff increases on the recycling fees for OTR tires. From a previous upper limit of C$250.20 per tire, the fee rose to C$362.80 for tires weighing between 375 and 700 kilograms, going to a high of C$1,311.24 for tires above 1,200 kilograms.
Then, in June, a proposal from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment threatened to shut down Ontario Tire Stewardship altogether in favor of Individual Producer Responsibility requirements for the collection and recycling of tires and other end-of-life products.
The tire recycling industry was not without crime or mayhem in 2013. In Colorado in September, a tire recycler pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud for filing false or inflated tire tonnage reimbursement claims with the state.
In March, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated a Kansas City tire recycling and used tire business after an employee lost both legs in a tire shredding machine.
On the other hand, environmental agencies in Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee and other states made millions of dollars in grants to counties and communities to fund tire recycling projects, ranging from recycling OTR tires to building playgrounds and athletic fields with crumb rubber surfaces.
Tire recyclers, manufacturers, retailers and distributors, as well as state and provincial agencies, funded many civic and charitable programs around tire recycling, including:
- The “Tread Town” playgrounds opened by the Tire Pros franchise unit of American Tire Distributors Holdings Inc. in several towns across the U.S.;
- Del-Nat Corp.'s “Tires for Trees” program in Memphis, in which it plants sugar maples and contributes $1 to the Memphis City Beautiful Commission for every scrap tire it collects in the city; and
- Vermont's “Wheels for Warmth” program, which collects used tires and sells them to buy home heating fuel for Vermonters on fixed incomes.