Scientists at McMaster University say they have found a way to help eliminate and prevent the major environmental concerns and dangers caused by stockpiled tires.
Researchers have discovered a new process that would break down old tires and allow them to be turned into new products.
Michael Brook, a professor in the Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology at McMaster and lead author of the study, says the chemistry used to make tires so durable on the road also makes them difficult to recycle. Tires are made for single use from a non-renewable resource and often end up in massive landfills or storage facilities, ultimately leaching contaminants into the ecosystem.
Scientists say the chemistry of a tire is very complex and does not lend itself to degradation. The technique of curing tires was first developed by Charles Goodyear in 1850. Goodyear combined sulfur with natural rubber, which forms bridges between the natural polymers and transforms the mixture from fluid to rubber.
McMaster researchers have discovered a way to break down the polymeric oils by breaking the sulfur-to-sulfur bond. Brook likens the structure to a piece of fishnet.
“We have found a way to cut all the horizontal lines so instead of having a net, you now have a large number of ropes, which can be isolated and reprocessed much more easily,” he says.
The scientists warn the process is still quite expensive for industrial applications.
“We’re working on it, but this is the first major step. This process closes the loop on automotive rubber, allowing old tires to be converted into new products,” says Brook.