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Fraunhofer changes the game for rubber scrap

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

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