Solid Waste & Recycling

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Rubber Revitalization

Recently I heard of a patent awarded to Chevron U.S.A. Inc. for an oil processing system, a patent application filed by BP Corp. for a chemical process for creating aromatic carboxylic acid, and a Taiwanese inventor receiving a patent for a...


Recently I heard of a patent awarded to Chevron U.S.A. Inc. for an oil processing system, a patent application filed by BP Corp. for a chemical process for creating aromatic carboxylic acid, and a Taiwanese inventor receiving a patent for a method of producing a new type of foaming material. The common denominator among the three technologies is that “waste” is the primary ingredient each process.

The Chevron oil processing system uses plastic as the feedstock; BP Corp. needs post-consumer PET; and inventor Kun-Huang Chang from Taiwan requires polyurethane foam in order to manufacture his new material.

The patent work by these three companies represents the growing global focus on the utilization of “waste” into new products. One aspect of the green jobs revolution is the utilization of these types of technologies.

Revitalizing rubber

The rubber products industry generates more than 10 million tonnes of scrap rubber each year. Although 60 per cent of the scrap rubber comes from tires, there’s a vast amount of in-house trim and excess vulcanized rubber wasted during the punching of rubber parts and products.

Watson Brown HSM Ltd., an England-based firm formed in 1997, has a patented rubber regeneration technology based on the principles of mechanochemistry. Through the use of a high shear mixing (HSM) machine, scrap rubber can be regenerated back to its un-vulcanized form. An HSM machine applies just the right about of mechanical stress on scrap rubber to reverse the crosslinking (once considered irreversible).

For a rubber product manufacturer, signing an agreement with Watson Brown will mean that scrap rubber is sent off-site for mechanical processing. There is no addition of chemicals, so the rubber compound is returned as if it were virgin material. This relationship with Watson Brown means a rubber product manufacturer reduces costs through the reduction of raw materials and elimination of waste disposal.

The commercially-proven process operates at low temperature to maintain the original polymer properties of the rubber. There are no air or wastewater emissions from the process. Regenerated rubber is returned to the generator for re-use and replaces the need for virgin feedstock.

Watson Brown is proposing to build its first North American facility in Mississauga. Depending on regulatory requirements, the plant will begin operation in the Fall of 2009. When in full production, the Mississauga facility will be capable of processing 7,200 tonnes of rubber per year and employ 46 “green collar” staff. Watson Brown estimates that up to 20,000 tonnes of excess rubber is generated in Ontario alone. There is potential for up to five more HSM facilities in Ontario which would provide 200 direct jobs.

Regulation

A major challenge facing companies that utilize waste in their feedstock is environmental regulation. Designed to prevent the misplacement of waste, the regulations in many Canadian jurisdictions require new technology companies to obtain permits for waste management, handling, and disposal.

For a cautious regulator, burned in the past by fraudsters who filled up leased warehouses with tires and promptly fled, the easy way is to continue with the status quo definition of “waste” and requirements for special approvals to handle and process it.

By maintaining the status quo, government is stifling the commercialization of innovative technologies that require “waste” as feedstock.

With global competition for high-end manufacturing jobs, the ability of companies like Watson Brown that can close the recycling loop and save manufacturers money should be welcomed. Imposing regulatory requirements on these high-technology companies that were meant for transfer stations and landfills is not the way for a jurisdiction to attract “green jobs.”

The added cost and time associated with obtaining an environmental permit, in some cases, may result in a company not securing financing for a project.

In the case of Watson Brown, the company is currently in discussions with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment about its technology and the planned facility. Due to the fact that the there are no air and water emissions from the process, the company already has clients lined up eager to save money and eliminate waste in rubber product production.

John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at john.nicholson@ebccanada.com


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