PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil—Can rice-husk residue be used as a raw material for the rubber industry?
Tire retreading company Vipal Rubber believes so.
The work is being carried out in partnership with the University of Caxias do Sul in Brazil, and Lodz Poland University of Technology, Vipal said in a statement.
Leftover husk from rice production is used as fuel for thermoelectric power plants, noted Suelen Moresco, a materials and chemistry engineer on the Vipal research team.
"From this energy-generation, there is still the ashes from the burning of the residue," Moresco said, explaining that the treatment of this by-product is the focus of the Vipal study.
"In addition to providing an appropriate destination for the waste, one of the advantages of using rice-husk ash is to diversify the raw materials within the rubber chain," she said.
The R&D effort has led to the development of a new treatment process, for which Vipal and the participating universities have filed a patent application.
The project is currently at the internal lab validation stage, in advance of progressing to factory tests.
Developing new, more sustainable materials and products requires a long-term effort, commented Rodemir Conte, product and process engineering manager at Vipal Rubber.
"Vipal invests a lot in research and this keeps it strong ... in a market that needs this renovation and alternatives that reduce environmental impacts," Conte said.
Frederico Schmidt, general manager of Vipal in Europe, said customers in markets such as Spain, France and Germany "are increasingly adopting measures that take into account the circular economy."
Vipal has three distribution centers in Europe—Valencia (Spain), Felixstowe (UK) and Nova Gorica (Slovenia). To meet the growth in the European market, the company has dedicated one of its four plants exclusively for exports.
With around 3,000 employees, Vipal claims to be one of the world's largest tire retreading companies, operating four factories with an installed capacity of over 19,000 metric tons per month.
The company has 13 distribution centers worldwide, offering products for retreading and repairing all types of tires. It also supplies rubber compounds, flooring and industrial products and manufactures machinery for tire retreading and agriculture.