A Malaysian company is taking a second shot at promoting a process to devulcanize scrap tires and turn them into useful rubber, and has snagged a high-profile investor for the project-Mel Gibson.
The actor and director is a financial backer in Green Rubber Global, a recycling venture of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-based Petra Group. The company said it plans to invest $30 million to build a recycling plant in Gallup, N.M., and headquarters in Albuquerque.
Petra will use the DeLink chemical process, invented by B.C. Sekhar-onetime director of the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia, chairman of the Malaysian Research and Development Board, and secretary-general of the International Rubber Study Group-and Russian scientist Vitaly Kormer.
Sekhar, who died in 2006, tried to market the process through STI Corp. Sdn. Bhd. and a U.S. subsidiary. However, tire and rubber product makers generally were indifferent to the product at a time of cheap virgin natural rubber. The company folded in 1998.
In the new project, the city of Gallup has agreed to build the facility on city-owned land, then lease back the plant to Green Rubber Global for 10 years.
Vinod Sekhar, president of Petra Group and founder of Green Rubber, said he selected New Mexico for the firm's U.S. base because of the state's advanced technology and clean energy. He also praised Gov. Bill Richardson-a Democratic candidate for president-citing his ``leadership and pro-business attitude.''
``The Green Rubber we build in New Mexico will be the first of its kind in the world, and people will come from all over to see first-hand how we can convert old tires into rubber compound that can be used to manufacture all kinds of rubber products,'' Sekhar said.
The facility is expected to be operational by mid-2008 and will employ 80, according to the company, and eventually will have a staff of 150 with an additional 15 at the headquarters. Rick Homans, former New Mexico state economic development secretary, is Green Rubber's president, based in Albuquerque.
The jobs will pay about $15 an hour, significantly higher than the average salaries in McKinley (New Mexico) County, according to the New Mexico Economic Development Department.
Michael Blumenthal, senior technical adviser for the Rubber Manufacturer's Association, noted the previous unsuccessful attempt to get rubber product makers interested in DeLink. He said the tire manufacturing industry has a long memory, and since Petra Group ``tried and failed once before, they have to come back and convince customers that (Petra) is in it for the long haul.''
A conservative lot, Blumenthal said that tire makers' main focus is producing a safe tire, and one that performs. Even though a lot of attention has been given to ``green'' materials, he said this material needs to be tested, and that could take a couple years.
While Blumenthal is interested and waiting to see what happens, Gibson was widely quoted in the media, praising the project. A call to his publicist went unanswered.