NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario—Paul Downey was a student in chemical engineering at the University of Western Ontario when something happened that changed his life: The February 1990 scrap tire fire in Hagersville, Ontario.
The Hagersville fire lasted 17 days, involved a stockpile of 14 million tires, and led the Ontario legislature to pass a law slapping a $5 tax on each new tire sold in the province to fund a scrap tire management program.
National Rubber Co. Inc.—a longtime rubber recycling firm later known as NRI Inc. and National Rubber Technologies Inc.—won the contract from the provincial government to direct the program.
Downey, who became fascinated by the challenges of recycling scrap tires in the wake of the Hagersville fire, sent his thesis on scrap tire recycling to National Rubber and was rewarded with a job inventing recycled rubber products at National.
Downey used the expertise he developed at National to start his own company, Pliteq Inc., which he founded in 2006. A manufacturer of advanced acoustical products for high-rise buildings, Pliteq recycles 22,000 metric tons of scrap tires annually, employs 225, operates in 50 countries and has offices in London, Singapore and Dubai as well as its manufacturing headquarters in Toronto.
National operated a rubber recycling plant at a brownfield site in downtown Toronto from 1994 to 2017, according to Downey.
"It was the largest rubber recycling plant in the world at the time," Downey said in an interview at the recent Rubber Recycling Symposium in Niagara Falls. "National had been in business since 1927. They were the ones who recycled rubber during World War II when the Japanese cut off rubber supplies from Malaysia. They took the rubber from tire collection drives and made gun gaskets and tank tracks for the U.S. Army."
Products Downey designed at National Rubber would eventually lead him down the path of the commercial sound control products developed for high-rise buildings that are central to Pliteq.
According to the Pliteq website, the company has 12 products listed by Underwriters Laboratories, as well as many additional structural and building certifications.
The company currently has five new inventions under development and patents registered in the U.S., Canada and many other countries, the website said.
GenieClip and GenieMat are key product lines at Pliteq. Its newest product is the GenieMat DM, a lateral vibration decoupling pad to be used at the caisson wall for building isolation, according to company publicity.
The principle of vibration isolation in a building, Downey said, is exactly the same as for an engine mount in a car. "Rubber is the best vibration isolator," he said.
While sound control is Pliteq's major business, the company is open to new and innovative applications for recycled rubber, according to Downey.
"We keep inventing," he said. "We have lots of young inventors, all of them excited to create new stuff. We'd like to recycle every tire in the world. But you can only do that if you keep creating new products."