The road ahead: Tyre Stewardship Australia

Tyre Stewardship Australia outlines plans for the next phase of its Tyre Stewardship Research Fund in 2018.

With its re-authorisation from the competition regulator up for renewal, an opportunity exists for Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) to work with stakeholders in putting their research into practice.

That’s according to Liam O’Keefe, TSA’s Market Development Manager. TSA’s central investment mechanism to support the market is its Tyre Stewardship Research Fund. From recycled rubber improving road stability, to the manufacturing of tyre crumb composite commercial piping, the possibilities of tyre-derived products are endless.

The Tyre Stewardship Research Fund was developed primarily to support collaborative research and the growth of Australian end-of-life tyre markets.

Recycled tyres can be used in road surfacing, soft fall playground surfacing, brake pads, industrial and commercial flooring, explosives, civil engineering and for biofuels in energy recovery. Across its two years of operation, the Tyre Stewardship Research Fund has invested in numerous research and development (R&D) projects, including the Geelong based high-tech manufacturing company, Polymeric Powders and Austeng, which turns discarded tyres into a new rubber plastic composite material, and a project by the University of Melbourne which looks at using recycled tyres in permeable paving.

The 2016-17 year saw $540,000 distributed across a range of projects, with an additional $320,000 worth of projects approved to bring the total R&D investment that year to $860,000.

Liam says that TSA is now looking at how the fund can be utilised on a larger scale, including innovative infrastructure projects. For TSA, an emerging priority is supporting the procurement of these products in state and local government roads. It comes as TSA begins the process of applying for its next Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Authorisation approval, which will look at re-authorising the scheme in April.

TSA in its annual report 2016-17 notes updates to the scheme guidelines will better reflect future market development opportunities and industry expectations.

Liam says R&D is beneficial as it proves performance benefits and supports specification development to enhance and increase recycled tyre-derived product use on state roads. With plenty of R&D completed, the next stage for TSA is to utilise the research outcomes to support the scaling up of production and consumption of tyre-derived product.

“Initially, the focus was more on the R&D, because we didn’t want to be too overt and influence the market unduly. But now we are more familiar with the markets – we know the road and rail sectors better, so we feel we’re better able to work with the appropriate bodies,” Liam explains.

As part of this advancement, TSA is already developing a training course for road engineers around the utilisation of crumb rubber binder in spray seal and asphalt applications and is working with the Australian Asphalt Pavement Association, a peak body for the flexible pavement industry. Bitumen modified with crumb rubber from used tyres aims to improve the properties of the binder and boosts its ability to hold the aggregate.

“In many instances crumb rubber performs better, if not as well as many conventional asphalts. The issue is there’s a lot of production and utilisation bottlenecks in being able to service and supply the product universally across the country.”

Liam says TSA will continue working with local government in 2018 to establish stronger partnerships that support R&D technologies funded by TSA. He notes that this would help council reduce issues of stockpiling by strengthening procurement policies that require tyre-derived products in local government roads.

One such project with potential was orchestrated by the University of Melbourne and Australian manufacturer Merlin Site Services. Researchers at the University of Melbourne investigated the use of recycled tyres in permeable pavement. The researchers found a waste tyre mix could be used in permeable pavement applications to reduce storm water runoff, as permeable paving allows water to pass through the surface of the pavement. The surfaces were all evaluated for skid resistance, pavement movement, water infiltration and run-off. The pilot trial used four different pavement recipes, which could be used on different surfaces, including footpath, bike path, car park and low-volume traffic road.

“There could be some really big possibilities with that. The University of Melbourne has strong partnerships with industry,” Liam says.

“We’re looking for partners, particularly in the local government sector, to run trials with it to use it in bike tracks and car parks. If there are innovative councils out there interested in the benefits this can offer, we’d be interested in collaborating with them and the University of Melbourne.”

Liam says TSA has also approved the next phase of funding with the Geelong-based manufacturers Polymeric Powders and Austeng. The companies have worked on a process that turns a polyolefin-rubber-based composite into high quality pipes for a range of industrial uses, including in the building and construction sector, mining, oil and gas and flexible electronics.

TSA’s annual report 2016-17 notes the pipes have passed stringent standard performance tests, marking the first-time plastic/rubber composite pipes using 50 per cent modified tyre crumb have passed such tests. The new composite material has desirable properties when compared with traditional acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) plastics, including increased shock absorption, resistance to cracking, thermal insulation and acoustic insulation.

Liam says the next stage will involve producing the pipes on a larger scale, which has also received support from Sustainability Victoria. Phase two is set to upscale production in Geelong to service the local market.

“In 2018, we will continue our focus on R&D. In order to get a broader portfolio of projects and more immediate consumption of tyre-derived product further direct funding support, including for infrastructure projects, is being considered.

“We want to demonstrate the value of tyre-derived products for recyclers and we want to capitalise on the research of the past two years.”