Tyromer Inc. : Pioneer Largescale Devulcanization Technology Gives New Life to Old Tires

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Sam Visaisouk, CEO

It is not common to name a young company a “Top 10 Most Valuable Company”. CEO Views chose Tyromer for the following reasons:

  • Great technology for a global problem
  • Collaboration to drive the circular economy
  • Licensing and JV to service global markets
  • Strong R&D
  • Diverse and dedicated team

Great technology for a global problem

Globally we will generate over one billion scrap tires this year, and every year thereafter in the foreseeable future. Scrap tire rubber cannot be reused easily, so for reasons of expediency, nearly 50% of them are burned for their energy value. The scrap tire recycling philosophy continues to be driven by a disposal mindset even though scrap tires are a valuable resource that is renewable. Some scrap tires are ground into crumb rubber for use in playgrounds, sport surfaces and low value molded products. Very small amounts of crumb rubber find its way back into tires.

Tyromer Inc. was established by the University of Waterloo in Canada to commercialize an invention by Professor Costas Tzoganakis whereby he used carbon dioxide as a “catalyst” to devulcanize crumb rubber in an extruder. Unlike other attempts, his process does not require the use of chemical solvents and devulcanization chemicals. For his invention, he was named the winner of the prestigious 2018 James L. White Innovation Award by the Polymer Processing Society. In a nutshell, Tyromer technology allows scrap tire rubber to be reused in meaningful amounts in new and retreaded tires, something that was previously unattainable.

Tyromer systematically scaled up the lab invention and now produces TDP (Tire-Derived Polymer) from scrap tire crumb rubber for reuse in rubber goods. Because the tire industry consumes more than 50% of global rubber, and to make the most meaningful impact, Tyromer focused on returning scrap tire rubber to tires.

Tire rubber is a high-tech material with very stringent performance requirements whereas scrap tire rubber is old and degraded, and crumb rubber is a mixture made from different types of scrap tires. Against these odds, Tyromer optimized and validated TDP for reuse in retread tire rubber at up to 20%. Due to excellent industry feedback, use of TDP will expand to new tires in 2019. For the first time, scrap tire rubber can be reused in new tires in tangible amounts. There is now a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable option to recycle scrap tires where the mindset can shift from disposal to reuse. As a small company, Tyromer has made a transformational impact in both the scrap tire recycling and the tire industries.

Collaboration to drive the circular economy

The tire industry is sophisticated with deep knowledge of materials. It is virtually impossible for a small company to develop a new material and push it into the industry. Tyromer chose an open-innovation collaboration business model where it learns from the deep knowledge of the industry to optimize a material that can be pulled into the industry once proven. Through collaborations with AirBoss Rubber Solutions, a major custom rubber compounder, and KAL Tire, a global leader in tire sales and service to the mining, transportation and consumer sectors, Tyromer validated its TDP for use in OTR (Off-The-Road) tire retreading at the 20% level. In terms of use of recycled material, this is well beyond what has been achieved in the industry. Collaboration with other global tire industry leaders will see TDP in new OTR tires, truck and passenger tires in 2019. This is the beginning of a true circular economy in which scrap tire rubber is reused in new tire production. Tyromer also has collaborations for non-tire applications: automotive parts, waterproofing, coating and building components. For a small company, Tyromer has established itself as an equal partner with industry leaders.

Licensing and JV to service global markets

Because scrap tire recycling and tire manufacturing are global, Tyromer chose a licensing and joint venture business model to globally implement its scrap tire recycling solution and its TDP production to service the tire industry. There is urgency to deal with the tire recycling problem and Tyromer does not have the luxury of serving one customer at a time. Currently Tyromer has one TDP production operation in Canada with a 4,000-ton capacity and a similar one in a licensed operation in China. Under the Tyromer licensing program, a larger facility with 10,000-ton capacity is nearing completion in Canada to supply a global brand with TDP for use in truck and passenger tires; another 10,000-ton facility is set to begin construction to supply a global brand in OTR tires, and licensed operations are pending in US, New Zealand, China, India, Italy, Croatia and Estonia. As a small company, Tyromer has created a platform to efficiently roll out its business to the world.

Strong R&D

Professor Tzoganakis continues to maintain his active academic research program at the University of Waterloo while serving as Tyromer Chief Technology Officer. His diverse research group serves as a talent pipeline to Tyromer. Tyromer provides scholarship and financial support to select graduate students and post-docs. Tyromer bridges academia and industry to give impact to university research.

Diverse and dedicated team

The Tyromer team, not having traditional experience in the scrap tire recycling sector and the tire and rubber industry, was able to see challenges and opportunities from a new perspective not burdened by historic bias. Tyromer leadership took a simple lab invention, positioned it to serve and bridge two major industries, overcoming barriers to bring a circular economy to support sustainability in one of the largest industry sectors. The small Tyromer team is driven by the belief that collectively they are making a positive impact through their actions on a daily basis. Their focus and commitment are particularly commendable.

As explained by Sam Visaisouk, Tyromer CEO, using TDP as a new tire rubber compound replacement material provides a 90%+ savings on the energy otherwise needed to produce the new compound. This is becoming significant as we move towards a low carbon economy.

With sustainability more and more on our mind nowadays, we applaud Tyromer for its vision and effort to enable a circular economy for the tire industry where tires can go round and round. Tyromer’s collaborative approach removes blinders and breaks down silos of thought. Its licensing business approach will energize the stagnant crumb production sector to become a key contributor to solving the global scrap tire problem. Tyromer’s actions add up to much more than their parts.

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