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Deakin University is playing a key role in reducing one of the great environmental blights of the 21st century, mountains of used tyres, while at the same time helping create sustainable manufacturing jobs in Victoria.
Deakin has been working with the Victorian-based company VR TEK Global on energy efficient technologies that make it simple and more effective to recycle worn out tyres.
Since November 2009, a research team led by Professor Qipeng Guo has been helping VR TEK Global develop new rubber de-vulcanisation and activation technologies.
This has led to a new, cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution for turning old tyres into high quality ingredients for the manufacture of new rubber products.
“This has been a very exciting project for us,” said Professor Guo who works in Deakin’s new Institute for Frontier Materials.
“Something that is particularly pleasing for me is the fact our partner company VR TEK Global is now nearing commercialisation, which means the creation of new manufacturing jobs in Victoria.”
“After our successful pilot operation with a commercial scale facility at Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds campus, VR TEK Global is proposing to build a tyre recycling plant that will process 500,000 tyres a year.
“The plant will make full use this new tyre recycling process.
“At the moment when tyres are recycled, whole tyres are shredded and then they try to remove the metal from the rubber using high-powered magnets.
"The process we have developed can separate the different tyre components creating a high quality metal free rubber powder.”
This powder then undergoes an activation process which allows it to be more effectively recycled in to new rubber products.
Key markets for these new products will be port-docking rubber, rubber covers for mining industry vehicles and conveyor belts.
Further refining of the process will lead to the powder also being used to make new tyres.
“A lot of my research work is about helping make the world more environmental friendly,” Professor Guo said.
“Sadly because of pollution we have been slowly destroying our planet.
“Apart from used tyres, another major contributor to that pollution is non-biodegradable plastics, the detrimental impact of which is compounded because its manufacture uses so much of another finite resource, petroleum.
“At Deakin with my fellow researcher Dr Nishar Hameed, I have been working on a project to create sustainable alternatives to plastics that are both biodegradable and use renewable resources.
“We call it the green processing route.
“We have developed novel biodegradable polymeric materials by taking advantage of the ionic liquid green solvent concept.
“We use natural polymers such as cellulose, wool, and their derivatives because they are all renewable, biodegradable, and biocompatible.
“If we are to effectively reduce the pollution of our planet, we are going to have to be smart, to come up with better products and better technologies.
“I am proud that Deakin has been playing its part through our partnership with VR TEK Global and our working on developing new green materials from natural polymers, while also helping create new, sustainable manufacturing jobs.”
The VR TEK global project also highlights Deakin ability to work in partnership with a number of external organisations.
It was jointly sponsored by the Advanced Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (AMCRC) and the Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing (VCAMM).