MINNEAPOLIS — The rubber industry's drive toward sustainability and green technology is drawing favorable attention to NorthStar Elastomers L.L.C.'s patented Tirecycle technology, according to executives of the Minneapolis-based company.
"There's a lot more activity surrounding Tirecycle," said Jim Judson, director of sales for NorthStar Elastomers, which began life in the mid-1960s as Rubber Research Elastomerics.
"The attractiveness of recycled materials has grown a lot recently, but especially in Europe, where the emphasis on green manufacturing and sustainability is driven by regulations within the European Union."
Tire and rubber product manufacturers in Europe and elsewhere are expressing interest in Tirecycle, not just as a way to use recycled rubber, but also as a superior technology that enhances the performance of rubber products when blended with virgin rubber, according to Mr. Judson.
"They're looking at it as upcycling, rather than simply recycling," he said.
The green manufacturing factor is important to the future of Tirecycle, according to NorthStar President Terry Korupp. In recent years, the low prices of virgin rubber have made it difficult for recycled materials to compete on price alone.
"You can make a beautiful product, but your clientele doesn't necessarily want to spend an extra 50 cents," Mr. Korupp said.
According to the NorthStar website, Tirecycle has a long list of applications, including tire treads, shoe soles, hoses, grommets, conveyor belting, rubber sheets, mining and automotive components, agricultural equipment, waterproofing and roofing.
Tirecycle has been tested and used in standard tread compounds for most types of truck, passenger and off-the-road tires for more than 30 years, according to NorthStar's summary of support data on the material.
It is a fully reactive crumb rubber compound derived from high-specification cured tread rubber that blends readily into NR/SBR/BR base masterbatches and cures identically, the company said.
According to Mr. Judson, Tirecycle can be blended into virgin rubber at levels of 25 to 87.5 percent. NorthStar claims benefits from the use of Tirecycle including:
- A 15-percent increase or greater in tread life when used at a 50-50 ratio;
- A reduction in rolling resistance, showing up as higher MPG and lower heat gain;
- Improved safety;
- No rejects from blisters;
- A measurable increase in both wet and dry traction; and
- A reduction of as much as 30 percent in curing time, along with lower curing temperatures.
NorthStar is also getting encouraging results in its tests with graphene, an atom-thin carbon material that is 200 times stronger than steel.
Various studies have shown that graphene improves both the durability and traction of tires, according to Mr. Korupp. And NorthStar's own studies show that Tirecycle and graphene are very compatible, he said.
"We're looking at whether we should put graphene in our own mix, or if we should just look at the rubber that comes to us down the road," Mr. Korupp said. "A lot of it will be certain to contain graphene."