PITTSBURGH—Despite the weak economy, the recycled rubber market is seeing modest growth and should continue to grow, especially in the rubberized asphalt area, according to Jeffrey Kendall, CEO of Liberty Tire Recycling.
"The use of rubber is asphalt has been impacted by state budgets, but its overall acceptability for use throughout the U.S. and Canada has grown significantly during the last year or so," Kendall said. "This could and should be a terrific growth market."
Rubberized asphalt remains the new recycling rubber market with the greatest potential, Kendall said in an exclusive interview.
Devulcanization, despite its adherents, doesn't appear to be on the horizon yet as a commercial application, according to Kendall. But the various methods to break rubber down into fuel and carbon black seem to have big potential, if only for the effort devoted to them, he said.
"The number of individuals attempting this is in the many dozens," he said. "No one seems to have found a successful way to implement this strategy, but many are trying hard."
The weak economy and high gas prices have reduced the generation of scrap tires, because of fewer miles driven and the resulting drop in replacement tire sales, according to Kendall.
There also has been downward pressure on prices for some recycled rubber products, he said. This was caused partly by weak demand for crumb rubber in Europe, which caused a European crumb producer to export crumb to the U.S. at low prices, he said.
Crumb rubber for molded goods is growing nicely and should continue to grow, according to Kendall. The rubber infill market dipped about 20 percent in 2009 and has never really rebounded, but it has held more or less steady ever since, he said.
However, tire-derived fuel, despite some recent troubles, has been growing modestly over the past several years, Kendall said.
"Some users have come online, while others have typically gone out of business," he said. "The combination with lower gas and coal prices has produced a net stable environment."
The cement kiln market—a mainstay of TDF—suffered greatly in the recession, according to Kendall.
"However, as construction and investment in infrastructure comes back, so will the kilns," he said. "We expect usage of tires in kilns to approximate levels in the first part of the 2000s."
Liberty Tire has always positioned itself to take advantage best of current and future trends in the recycled rubber market, according to Kendall.
"We focus first on servicing our collection customers," he said. "Without the tires, we cannot participate in the other markets.
"Beyond that, we continue to improve our production capacity and quality to meet market demand," he said. "We have an excellent market development and sales team, constantly on the lookout for new uses of recycled rubber."