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Can old tyres help prevent earthquakes?

New Zealand has long faced an end-of-life tyres problem. Around 3.5 million used tyres are landfilled or, worse, dumped illegally. The country’s Institute of Environmental Science and Research believes such tyres have a big role to play in making buildings safer. 

Used tyres can be recycled and developed into earthquake-proof shock absorbers for new buildings, says groundwater scientist Laura Banasiak. She is involved in a NZ$ 1 million government-funded R&D project at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR).

The two-year endeavour aims to tackle ‘massive’ tyre stockpiles ‘that never degrade’. Banasiak says the goal is to design an ‘eco-rubber seismic isolation foundation’. She reports: ‘Preliminary testing has been undertaken and it has been successful.’

According to Banasiak, the foundation system is suitable to be used for medium-density, low-rise buildings. Canterbury University in Christchurch is collaborating on the research project.

Laura Banasiak says the tyre recycling project is very promising.

As a next step, the scientists are conducting environmental laboratory tests on the degradation of the shredded rubber. This is meant to assess whether there’s any release of toxic chemicals into the environment.

‘We’ll be doing leaching tests, combining the rubber with the gravel mixtures and exposing them to conditions we expect to be under the foundation system, for a long period of time to see what contamination could occur,’ Banasiak explains.

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