Innovation, Sustainability and Value

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Carol Hochu, President & CEO, Tire and Rubber Association of Canada (TRAC). Credit: Carol Hochu

First USTMA conference since COVID strikes a big chord with attendees.

I recently attended the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) 2024 Tire Recycling Conference in Atlanta, Ga., the first such event since before the COVID-19 pandemic; and several hundred attendees were hungry for a face-to-face meeting! The event covered the key topics with which the industry grapples today, and for anyone with an interest in the business of tires or tire recycling should not miss events such as this one.

Tire Recycling Foundation

USTMA 2024 began with Anne Forristall Luke from the USTMA, Dick Gust from the Tire Industry Association, and John Eunice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announcing the launch of the Tire Recycling Foundation (TRF)—a broad-based whole value chain initiative committed to securing funding and allocating grants for research, education, intervention, and demonstration projects targeting critical gaps within the tire recycling supply chain across the United States. You can learn more about TRF here.

The announcement was followed by a session “Re-inventing the wheel” – new tire technology update panel” with presenters from Pirelli, Bridgestone, and Michelin discussing innovation in sustainable materials and how those materials intersect with safety and performance.

In the “Innovation in the scrap tire processing industry” session, leading tire recyclers discussed innovative efforts and provided insights into ongoing collaborative initiatives aimed at expanding market opportunities. The speakers noted that using recycled rubber to modify asphalt binders and hot mixes is one of the most innovative high-volume, high-value uses for end-of-life tires today.

Emphasizing value

A case study on the rebranding of the organization formerly known as ISRI (Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries) now called Recycled Materials Association (ReMA, with the tagline “Sustainable. Resilient. Essential”) showed that “scrap” has a negative connotation with consumers and other stakeholders, and our industry should emphasize the value in end-of-life tires.

In the session “Tire materials & tire recycling” scientific and academic speakers reviewed leaching study results including evaluating the potential for 6PPD and 6PPD-quinone impacts. The conclusion is that rubber-modified asphalt pavements are not expected to produce any concerning levels of 6PPD-q in most watersheds.

In a legislative and regulatory update session, the USTMA noted that in 2024, 25 states considered legislation directly affecting end-of-life tires with 50 unique legislative proposals in the areas of modification of state programs, miscellaneous remediation issues, fee issues, pyrolysis, bans on synthetic turf and playground surfaces, and extended producer responsibility.

Day two of the conference began with concurrent sessions with track one covering the outlook for tire-derived fuel, tire-derived aggregate, and recycling tires into new moulded products. Track two, which I attended, focused on rubber-modified asphalt, specifically RMA state of knowledge, state specifications, and market opportunities.

“Chained” to low bids

In terms of the latter, speakers noted that the asphalt industry is “chained” to low bids in the near term and that rubber in asphalt won’t grow without touting a value proposition including RMA being less expensive than polymer-modified asphalt and more durable than unmodified asphalt. RMA also offers additional benefits including better fuel economy and longer pavement life.

The second to last session provided updates on the newer technologies of pyrolysis and gasification, and how pyrolysis companies play a crucial role in expanding the circular market for reclaimed/recovered carbon black. The session also identified challenges and opportunities the industry faces in establishing a circular tire supply chain that includes advanced recycling processes.

Growing sustainable markets

In the final session of the conference USTMA CEO Anne Forestall Luke conversed with Alexis Garcin, Chair and President of Michelin North America, and Paolo Ferrari, CEO of Bridgestone Americas on growing sustainable and circular markets, tire makers’ role in sustainability and innovation, and their perspectives on the future of tire manufacturing and the role of the industry in supporting tire recycling.

Conference themes of innovation, sustainability, value, and partnerships resonated well with attendees who rated the event 4.5 out of 5.


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