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SpaceBlue is on a mission to solve the global problem of waste tire using graphene by developing sustainable and circular economy products."
Dr. Vivek Koncherry, Managing Director, Space Blue Limited
Approximately 1.5 billion waste tires are generated globally every year that end up in unfavorable end-of-life scenarios, such as landfills or incineration (Williams, 2017). Shredded small micro-particles are exposed to the environment, which has raised concerns over negative environmental impacts.
A Manchester start-up company, Space Blue Limited, has used graphene to increase the performance of recycled tire rubber, reducing wastage from vehicle tires and contributing to positive environmental impacts.
Supported by the Graphene Engineering Innovation Center's (GEIC) ERDF Bridging the Gap program at The University of Manchester, the managing director of the company, Dr. Koncherry has stated that the developed product, SpaceMat, is a flooring product or doormat with 80% waste tire material and 20% graphene-enhanced natural rubber.
Vehicle Tire Wastage
It is estimated that the automobile industry produces approximately 246 million waste tires in the United States (US) each year (Berendsohn, 2018). When cars were invented in the late 1800s, wheels were made of stone or wood, shortly replaced by leather and then rubber.
Tire rubber was cultivated from rubber trees, which contributed to massive deforestation worldwide. As the cars became more common and popular towards the 20th century, the naturally available rubbers were not sufficient, leading a German chemist Fritz Hofmann to invent the first commercial synthetic rubber in 1909.
Tires now consist of around 19% natural rubber, 24% plastic polymer as synthetic rubber with metals, and other compounds contributing to the remaining percentage. However, the concern of increasingly used rubber tires that often end up as pollutants are becoming a clear concern (Root, 2019).
A study carried out by Kole, Loehr, Belleghem, & Ragas in 2017 stated that the US produces the most tire wear per capita with an estimated 1.8 million tons of microplastics each year. Another 2017 report by Boucher & Friot and published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that tires contribute to approximately 28% of overall microplastic waste in the world’s oceans.
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Recycled Tire Rubber
Almost three billion automobile tires were produced worldwide in 2019 alone (Brook, 2020). This figure attracts considerable attention to innovating sustainable methods of recycling or reusing used tires. In the US alone, Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) announced the increase in reusing tires from 11% in 1990 to 81% in 2017 (Root, 2019). This demonstrates the increase in tires' recycling into different products, such as playgrounds, sports fields, and building materials.
One specific tire recycling product is Tire Derived Fuel (TDF), which offers a viable alternative to fossil fuels. In 2019, the Global TDF Fuel market accounted for $124.51 million worldwide, which is expected to reach $175.72 million by 2027 (Stratistics Market Research Consulting Pvt Ltd, 2020).
Using tires as fuel gives the benefit of producing the same amount of energy as oil with 25% more energy and lower emission of NOx than coal. In 2003, more than 290 million scrap tires were generated in the US, with nearly 35% recycled as TDF in various industrial facilities (Tire-Derived Fuel, 2016).
Materials processing equipment on the market today
Other commonly known applications of used tires are ground rubber products, such as asphalt rubber, synthetic sports, and civil engineering applications.
The discovery of Space Blue Ltd adds an innovative solution by including favorable properties of graphene that aim to recycle waste tires by converting them into attractive and extremely hard-wearing floor mats while minimizing the negative impact on the environment.
Graphene-Enhanced Flooring Mats
Graphene is currently considered to be the most robust material in the world. It is harder than diamond, stronger than steel, but lighter than aluminum (Chhantyal, 2020).
The use of graphene also gives an advantage of engineering the recycled tires' mechanical properties, offering similar performance to a virgin material (SpecialChem, 2020).
Keeping its functional properties in mind, scientists and engineers have already explored the use of graphene in different areas of consumer goods. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, an Australian tech company, Imagine Intelligent Materials, has invented a smart sensing floor using graphene (Desk, 2020). The developed smart floor has a built-in technology that communicates with consumers about their precise distance from one another, providing assistance to maintain suggested social distancing.
In December 2014, a Spanish company, Catlike, launched a line of graphene-enhanced cycling shoes that are light and durable (Graphene-info, 2020).
Why Graphene Increases Durability in Tire Vehicle Recycling
Reusing tires does pose the question of durability. A 2013 report by Badila (Tire Steward Manitoba in Canada) stated the weariness of passenger light truck tires, which results in losing nearly 2.5 pounds of rubber during their service life.
Introducing graphene into the product can address this concern of durability with its exceptional mechanical strength. Space Blue’s graphene-enhanced recycled rubber floor products are compensated with excellent graphene properties, which has double the rubber's compressive strength, increasing the durability of the product.
Another noticeable and advantageous property of graphene is its outstanding thermal conductivity, which has been recently exploited by Xiaomi through its launch of a graphene-based smart heating mattress that generates heat by enabling uniform heating without overheating or overcooling problems (Peleg, 2020).
While production volume is limited and prices are still high, the invention of Space Blue Limited has shown an innovative method of reducing vehicle tire wastage by manufacturing commercial applications. The company is now exploring other series of products, including traffic cones and anti-viral doormats, and is currently working hard to promote the technology globally while becoming an excellent example of supporting efforts towards environmental sustainability and great use of used tires that would otherwise end up as a waste product.
References and Further Reading
Badila, C. A. (2013). Scrap Tire Weight and Characteristics Study Passenger Light Truck (PLT). Tire Stewardship Manitoba.
Berendsohn, R. (2018). Our Waste Tire Problem Is Getting Worse. [Online] Popular Mechanics: https://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/car-technology/a22553570/waste-tires/ (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
Boucher, J., & Friot, D. (2017). Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: A Global Evaluation of Sources. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. doi:10.2305/IUCN.CH.2017.01.en
Brook, M. A. (2020). A new recycling technique breaks down old tires into reusable materials. [Online] The Conversion: https://theconversation.com/a-new-recycling-technique-breaks-down-old-tires-into-reusable-materials-129527 (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
Chhantyal, P. (2020). Antibacterial Applications of Graphene-Based Nanomaterials. [Online] AZoNano: https://www.azonano.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=5481 (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
Desk, N. (2020). Smart mat powered by graphene sensors provides solution for social distancing. [Online] Australian Manufacturing: https://www.australianmanufacturing.com.au/128223/smart-mat-powered-by-graphene-sensors-provides-solution-for-social-distancing (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
Graphene-info. (2020). Graphene-enhanced cycling shoes by Catlike hit the market soon! [Online] Graphene-info: https://www.graphene-info.com/graphene-products (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
Kole, P. J., Loehr, A. J., Belleghem, F. G., & Ragas, A. M. (2017). Wear and Tear of Tyres: A Stealthy Source of Microplastics in the Environment. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(10). doi:10.3390/ijerph14101265
Peleg, R. (2020). Xiaomi launches a graphene-based smart heating mattress. [Online] Graphene-info: https://www.graphene-info.com/xiaomi-launches-graphene-based-smart-heating-mattress (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
Root, T. (2019). Tires: The plastic polluter you never thought about. [Online] Environment I The Story of Plastic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/09/tires-unseen-plastic-polluter/ (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
SpaceBlue Limited. (2020). SpaceMat: Sustainable Rubber Doormat for Home and Industry. [Online] SpaceBlue Limited: https://spaceblue.co.uk/ (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
SpecialChem . (2020). Space Blue Develops Graphene-enhanced Flooring Mats Based on Recycled Rubber. [Online] Omnexus: https://omnexus.specialchem.com/news/industry-news/graphene-flooring-mats-recycled-rubber (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
Stratistics Market Research Consulting Pvt Ltd. (2020). Tire derived Fuel - Global Market Outlook (2019 -2027). [Online] https://www.marketreportsworld.com/TOC/13740969#TOC (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
Tire-Derived Fuel. (2016). [Online] US Environmental Protection Agency: https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/tires/web/html/tdf.html (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)
Williams, J. (2017). What can the world do with 1.5 billion waste tyres? [Online] The Earthbound Report: https://earthbound.report/2017/06/29/what-can-the-world-do-with-1-5-billion-waste-tyres/ (Accessed on 20 October, 2020)