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Left to right: Art Dodge, CEO, Encore International; Brian Eberle, Director of marketing and sales, Global Environmental Manufacturing; and Avraam Isayev, Distinguished professor, the University of Akron.

  • Ecore's Eco98 features a wear layer made entirely with recycled plastic bottles and a rubber backing that contains up to 98 percent recycled content.

    Credit: Courtesy Ecore International

    Ecore's Eco98 features a wear layer made entirely with recycled plastic bottles and a rubber backing that contains up to 98 percent recycled content.
Itstru Technology, Ecore

As the largest user of scrap tires in North America, Ecore was in no shortage of a green message. Each year, the Lancaster, Pa., company sources 50 million pounds of recycled rubber to make flooring, acoustical, and industrial products. Still, CEO Art Dodge wanted to further leverage the performance characteristics of rubber: durability, moisture- and impact-resistance, and sound dampening. “We wanted to change the [flooring] industry,” he says.

Following four years of research and development, Ecore launched Itstru Technology, which conditions rubber to lie flat and open its pores, allowing Ecore to “laminate virtually any surfacing material onto its recycled underlayment,” says Bo Barber, vice president of commercial flooring. Playgrounds have long enjoyed rubber’s cushioning ability, but until “Itstru allowed us to put a functional surface in healthcare, it wasn’t a conversation.” By combining the best of both worlds, Ecore envisions rubber-backed flooring—which can contain up to 98 percent recycled content—in schools, nursery homes, and multifamily housing. “There is no end for this,” Barber says.

  • Euroshield rubber roofing products

    Credit: Courtesy Global Environmental Manufacturing

    Euroshield rubber roofing products
Euroshield, Global Environmental Manufacturing

Tire-filled landfills impelled GEM CEO Henry Kamphuis to find a use for recycled rubber in the 1990s, says Brian Eberle, the Calgary, Alberta, Canada–company’s marketing and sales director. After successfully repurposing rubber for use as a stucco additive, Kamphuis developed Euroshield, a line of roofing products that features crumb rubber as the key ingredient—about 70 percent by weight.

The recycled shingles look and endure like their slate counterparts, but have rubber’s impact and moisture resistance, inorganic composition, elasticity, and insulation ability. “We’ve never had a hail claim,” Eberle says. GEM estimates that an average Euroshield roof contains 600 to 1,000 rubber tires. The shingles are guaranteed for 50 years, though Eberle estimates their lifespan could exceed 75 years. EuroLite, GEM’s newest product, comes in tabbed panels and costs somewhere between the price of high-end asphalt shingles and lower-end standing-seam metal roofs. “It’s one thing to make a great product,” Eberle says. “It’s another to make it a real option to folks.”

  • Formerly vulcanized rubber returned into a flowable, natural state.

    Credit: Avraam Isayev and the University of Akron

    Formerly vulcanized rubber returned into a flowable, natural state.
Ultrasonic Devulcanization, the University of Akron

Rubber has been a longtime passion for Avraam Isayev, a distinguished professor of polymer engineering at the University of Akron. Cured, or vulcanized, rubber “is a very stable, beautiful material,” Isayev says. “It is soft and, at the same time, tough and flexible” in warm and cold temperatures. Vulcanization opens natural rubber’s double hydrocarbon bonds at the molecular level to create the cross-linked polymer chains that make cured rubber highly elastic. Consequently, “tires can stay forever unless you do something,” Isayev says.

Until recently, vulcanization was a permanent process. After decades of research, supported by the National Science Foundation and Nike, Isayev has found a way to reverse it using high-power ultrasound to break the cross-linked chemical bonds and return rubber into a “flowable material that can be reshaped and cured again,” he says. Currently, his ultrasonic extruder can process 300 pounds of rubber per hour; to help convince the tire industry that this is a real alternative in addressing waste, he is aiming for a rate of 1,000 to 5,000 pounds per hour.