Approximately 300 million tires get tossed out every year in America and each tire contains about 10 gallons of oil, according to Patrick George, CFO of new age rubber recycler Lehigh Technologies. That comes to 3 billion gallons.
The U.S. consumes about 145 billion gallons of oil. Thus, the amount thrown out in tires comes to around two percent of the annual total. Lehigh doesn't sell recovered oil-it has a process for making rubber powder out of things like tires that can then be reused for making new tires or other products--and it's not realistic that discarded tires can all be recycled. Still, the number gives you a sense of the gas consumption that could be avoided through better recycling. Recycling 30 million tires means 300 million gallons not consumed, which can also be viewed as 300 million gallons taken out of the ground.
Just think: Tracy, California can call itself the Saudi Arabia of old tires.
Lehigh has a plant that churn out 100 million pounds of recycled rubber powder a year.
Two-thirds of the rubber in the world, by the way, is synthetic. One-third is the real stuff.
Lehigh, which has raised $34.5 million, is one of the standouts in the green chemistry field. Like many other green chem companies, Lehigh has come up with a way to make a conventional product that a) relies on a cheap feedstock and/or b ) requires less fossil fuel to produce. Other standouts in the category include Serious Materials (wallboard that doesn't require much energy to manufacture), Hycrete (waterproof concrete) and Cereplast (bioplastics). Buyers of green chemistry products can also qualify, depending on the jurisidiction, for carbon credits, so there is a third advantage.
Several companies have tried recycled rubber in the past, but found it tough to take the rubber powder and make something useful again.
As a result, most old tires are burnt or put into monofills, said George. Some old rubber gets ground down into pellet-sized particles and refashioned into flooring or asphalt. But Lehigh is taking on a bigger market and a tougher assignment. It breaks down old rubber into an ultrafine powder, which can be used in a variety of products.
Lehigh did not come up with the process itself. It started in Germany as a way to grind up, and dispose of, old pharmaceuticals.
Lehigh is also not from Pennslyvania, George stated. The company is based in Florida. The founders, however, had another company with the Lehigh designation. "We needed a name quickly and we didn't want to pay a naming consultant," he said.