HAMILTON, Ontario — A team of chemists at Canada's McMaster University has discovered what the university is calling an "innovative way" to break down the rubber used in tires.
The process — described as "reductive silylation" — could lead to new recycling methods that have so far proved to be expensive, difficult and largely inefficient, McMaster said.
In a paper published by the journal Green Chemistry, Michael Brook, lead author and a professor in the department of chemistry and chemical biology at McMaster, claims the process efficiently breaks down the polymeric oils by breaking the sulfur-to-sulfur bond in tire rubber.
"The chemistry of the tire is very complex and does not lend itself to degradation — for good reason. … The properties that make tires so durable and stable on the road also make them exceptionally difficult to break down and recycle," he said.
Mr. Brook likened the structure to a piece of fishnet.
"We have found a way to cut all the horizontal lines so instead of having a net, you now have a large number of ropes, which can be isolated and reprocessed much more easily," he explained.
In a video posted on the McMaster website, Mr. Brook likened the process to "molecular scissors" that can cut through the sulfur bonds.