Putting tyres on the road to recycling

Australian researchers are developing a new method of recycling waste rubber which could see old tyres being turned into new tyres, industrial insulation, road pavement, flooring or geotextiles for retaining walls and embankments.

Tyres are extremely difficult to recycle economically. As a result, around the world each year, one billion of them either go into landfill or are burned.

Now, a research project claims to have achieved the first step towards turning old tyres into a rubber powder that can be reused. The project is a collaboration between between Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and recycling specialist VR TEK Operations.

CSIRO materials science and engineering scientist Barrie Finnin said the project team recently succeeded in segmenting a tyre into specific pieces, each of a known material composition, using a patented cutting mechanism built to VR TEK's design.

"This is a very positive first step in a three-stage process to pioneer the commercially and environmentally sustainable recycling of tyres," he added. "The next two stages will involve devulcanisation and activation of rubber to produce the resultant high quality rubber powders."

The rubber powders produced by the process could be turned into many commercially viable products, according to Michael Vainer, VR TEK's managing director. "Not only is there commercial potential for all these new products, recycling rubber is a cheaper and more energy efficient option than producing virgin materials," he said.

The next two stages of the project are expected to begin shortly.

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