In this ‘insights from industry’, Michael Vainer, Managing Director & CEO, VR TEK Global Pty Ltd, talks to Gary Thomas about the need for reprocessing end-of-life tyres and the unique VR TEK technology.
GT: Could you please provide a brief introduction to the industry that VR TEK Global Pty Ltd works within and outline the key drivers?
MV: The global Natural Rubber demand is forecast to rise by end 2012 to 11.3 million metric tonnes, with a further increase in demand to 11.8 million metric tonnes by end 2013 (Source: http://www.rubberworld.com/RWmarket_report.asp?id=819 - International Rubber Study Group www.rubberstudy.com). The global rubber shortage is expected to surge to over 1 million metric tonnes by 2020 (Source: http://rubbermarketnews.net/2012/07/indonesia-to-boost-rubber-production-to-make-up-growing-supply-deficit). VR TEK will be selling its ‘virtual rubber’ powders produced from reclaimed tyre rubber as a partial substitute for Natural Rubber to high quality mechanical rubber goods manufacturers at a price less than that of Natural Rubber.
GT: What makes VR TEK unique in this industry?
MV: Current global solutions for end-of-life tyres include the burning of tyres for heat with the resultant pollution; pyrolysis at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen to produce low value carbon black and kerosene with its associated harmful emissions; high cost liquid nitrogen based cryogenics for smashing tyres; and tyre shredding/crumbing to produce low value derivatives such as mats and playground coverings. In our opinion none of these solutions are environmentally sustainable or economically viable.
Furthermore in Australia end-of-life tyres end up 64% in legal landfill with illegal dumping constituting 14% (Source: Market Failure in End-of-Life Tyre Disposal - Final Report by URS Australia Pty Ltd. Prepared for Department of the Environment and Heritage Sept 2006 http://www.docstoc.com/docs/35122719/Market-Failure-in-End-of-life-Tyre-Disposal-(PDF)).
GT: What are devulcanised and activated rubber powders (DARP), and what are they primarily used for?
MV: VR TEK’s cleantech processes turn end-of-life reclaimed rubber into a high value ‘virtual rubber’ devulcanised and activated rubber powder (DARP) product to replace Natural Rubber virgin material in the manufacture of high end mechanical rubber derived products.
GT: What makes your rubber powders high quality in comparison to others?
MV: As opposed to rubber crumb, DARP ‘virtual rubber’ powders undergo a mechanical devulcanisation process to break the sulphur covalent chemical bonds on the surface area of the rubber powders, as well as treatment with gaseous mediums to create useful molecular functional groups on their surface area. This gives the rubber powders a very high quality due to its large ratio of small powder size to large de-sulphurised surface area characteristics coupled with its surface area molecular functional groups which all improves the bonding characteristics of the powders.
GT: What size range of rubber powders do you produce?
MV: Our DARP ‘virtual rubber’ powders range in size from less than 800 microns down to less than 75 microns.
GT: You co-invented the VR TEK technology - could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to develop this idea?
MV: I was always interested in science and began my undergraduate studies in Medicine at Monash University. However, my career interests led me to undertake studies in in Economics and Accounting as well as Engineering. It was later in my career as Director of Worldwide Trade Corporation that I confronted the problem of ‘end-of-life’ tyres and the issues related to their disposal. It was at this time that I discussed these issues with my co-inventor Boris Rozenblit and the rest as they say is history.
GT: What are the environmental benefits of using your technology to recycle end-of-life tyres?
MV: The cleantech features of our processes have been validated by EML a National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia (NATA) signatory body - confirming levels of Formaldehyde emitted during manufacturing is over a thousand times less than the manufacturing industry average, with also no detectible hazardous levels of NOx, SO2 & CO. Further, a Carbon Life-Cycle-Analysis study in relation to Greenhouse Gas emissions has been conducted in accordance with ISO 14044 confirming large saving in relation to Carbon Dioxide emissions, which is important in a carbon constrained economy.
GT: In your opinion, are enough tyres being recycled currently?
MV: It is my understanding that in 2011, a staggering 1.5 billion tyres were manufactured globally, with the world demand for tyres forecast to rise through 2015 to 3.3 billion units (Source: http://www.rubberworld.com/RWmarket_report.asp?id=750 - The Freedonia Group www.freedoniagroup.com). During the average life a tyre, only 15% of the rubber is worn out leaving the rest of the rubber as waste, therefore true recycling of the rubber left inside the end-of-life tyres is hugely important as Natural Rubber is a finite natural resource being derived from the rubber plant tree (Hevea brasiliensis).
I believe some European countries are doing a good job of it with the technologies they currently have at their disposal, however as previously said it is a sad state that in Australia end-of-life tyres end up 64% in legal landfill with illegal dumping constituting 14% (Source: Market Failure in End-of-Life Tyre Disposal - Final Report by URS Australia Pty Ltd. Prepared for Department of the Environment and Heritage Sept 2006 http://www.docstoc.com/docs/35122719/Market-Failure-in-End-of-life-Tyre-Disposal-(PDF)).
However, what is pleasing is that as I understand it now both the USA and China are banning the use of tyre derived fuels, with India set to follow. I believe this will give true tyre recycling a new global imputes.
GT: How do you see VR TEK progressing over the next decade? Have you any plans to expand operations?
MV: Our aim is to firstly establish large scale manufacturing capability initially in Australia for the production of our high value ‘virtual rubber’ devulcanised and activated rubber powder (DARP) from end-of-life reclaimed rubber. We then plan to expand our operations overseas by establishing such manufacturing facilities in high automotive use countries like the USA, China and India as well as certain European countries. From the very beginning we knew we were setting out to address a global problem, and we are being true to our name.