Germany – Whereas in the past rubber residues could only be downcycled to create products such as floor coverings, Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute has come up with a new kind of plastic compound called elastomer powder modified thermoplastics (EPMT) which, it is believed, will finally yield high-quality material.
‘Each year throughout the world, up to 22 million tons of rubber are processed and a large portion of it goes into the production of vehicle tyres,’ states the institute. ‘In the best case, the waste rubber is recycled into secondary products, though it typically lands in the incinerator.’ The reason for this, it argues, is that ‘appropriate techniques’ to yield a valuable recyclate have been lacking. With the introduction of EPMT, advanced products – such as handles, knobs and steerable castors – become a possibility.
The new plastic compound is comprised of rubber residues crushed into elastomer powder, which is then blended with thermoplastics – specifically polypropylene. ‘EPMT may contain up to 80% residual rubber; only 20% is made up by the thermoplastics,’ explains Fraunhofer scientist Dr Holger Wack.
According to the institute, the EPMT can be easily processed in injection moulding and extrusion machines. ‘Altogether, three basic recipes have been developed that collectively can be processed on the large technical production machines,’ the institute adds. ‘The researchers are capable of producing 100 to 350 kg of EPMT per hour.’
Dr Wack and his team have founded a spin-off venture, Ruhr Compounds, which will manage the production and sale of EPMT. This is not a premature move, it would appear, as shoe and sportswear giant Nike has already incorporated this Fraunhofer innovation into its promotional campaign for the ‘Nike Grind’ brand in the shape of frisbees, shoehorns and boomerangs.
Discussions have been initiated about using EPMT in Nike’s existing portfolio of sports apparel and equipment, notes Dr Wack.
For more information, visit: www.fraunhofer.de/en