HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.—Scrap tire markets are much more stable now than at any time in the past, but products made from used tires still face an uphill battle for acceptance in some areas.
That´s Michael Blumenthal´s view of the state of the scrap tire business, presented by the senior technical director for the Rubber Manufacturers Association at the Clemson University Tire Industry Conference.
Ninety-three facilities in the U.S. use tire-derived fuel, the oldest and largest market application for scrap tires, according to Blumenthal.
"TDF is now getting $40 to $60 a ton—a very good price, better than anything except ground rubber," Blumenthal said. "TDF was once considered a low-end market, but now it´s high-end. The oil industry is worried we will never see low energy costs again. That makes TDF all the better entrenched."
Nevertheless, TDF still faces a lot of hostility from states and municipalities that erroneously connect it with black smoke and toxic emissions, Blumenthal said. Some assume scrap tire piles feed TDF facilities, he said, not realizing stockpiled tires are good only for whole-tire incineration in cement kilns and in civil engineering projects.
Civil engineering applications for tire shred also face some official disapprobation, largely because of fears about leachates. This use of scrap tires has increased 25 percent in the past two years, Blumenthal said. While road and landfill construction and field drainage are the main civil engineering uses, waste tires also are applied to vibration dampening for railroad tracks and erosion control.
Nevertheless, some states discourage the formation of civil engineering markets within their borders. "A lot of states suffer from the ´Not Invented Here´ syndrome," Blumenthal said. "California, for example, is a major potential market, yet it refuses to accept studies performed in other states."
Some states insist on forcing scrap tires into certain markets, and such shortsightedness always hampers progress in scrap tire abatement, according to Blumenthal.
"Putting all your eggs in one basket has failed in every state where it´s been tried," he said.
States like ground rubber because it´s the highest-value-added use for scrap tires, according to Blumenthal. "But it´s also the hardest market to succeed in. They don´t recognize the difference between market demand and what your machine can produce."
Blumenthal said it takes two to three years to develop a ground rubber business. "It´s a very tough, competitive market, and not everybody has the deep pockets necessary to succeed in it," he said
States also err in promoting crumb rubber businesses before there´s a market for their material, according to the RMA official. "Processing tires is not recycling tires," he said. "You recycle only when the rubber goes into an end-use product."
He believes crumb rubber producers are most successful when they realize their business is regional.
"The price for ground rubber is a little more stable than before, but too many entrepreneurs want to cover the market coast-to-coast," he said. "I give them six months before they lose their shirts."
But really small producers don´t tend to succeed either, he said. "Regional processing companies are working out quite well. The mom-and-pop shops are almost nonexistent compared with 10 years ago."
There are now about 275 million stockpiled tires in the U.S., or roughly the same number generated in the U.S. each year, Blumenthal said. "That number will go down," he said. "There are only a handful of large tire piles left in the U.S."
The original estimate of 3 billion stockpiled tires bruited in the early 1990s is now recognized to have been greatly exaggerated, according to Blumenthal, who said the actual number was only about 1 billion.