Sam Visaisouk and Costas Tzoganakis
Have you ever wondered what happens to your old vehicle tires after you have a flat or buy a new set? Every year over 1 billion end-of-life tires are generated globally. Nearly half of them are burned for their energy value which contributes to the creation of greenhouse gases.
Professor Costas Tzoganakis has developed an eco-friendly technology of devulcanizing or breaking down rubber using no chemical additives and producing no waste by-products. With this energy-efficient process, scrap tire rubber can be recycled and turned into Tire-Derived Polymer (TDP), a value-added rubber compound.
Tzoganakis came upon this technology almost by accident. He was conducting polymer research to develop a reactive extrusion process when someone gave him a sample of tire rubber crumb. Out of curiosity, he tested it and discovered that it could be devulcanized. That was the beginning of an exciting entrepreneurial journey. He still keeps that sample jar in his office!
Tzoganakis with the help of Ontario Centers of Excellence, who funded the research, patented the invention which soon came to the attention of Sam Visaisouk when he joined the Waterloo Commercialization Office (Watco). Visaisouk commented,
I knew nothing about rubber, but I saw great potential. I thought if we can industrialize the process the societal and environmental impact will be substantial.
Visaisouk reached out to Tom Corr who was then Vice President of Commercialization. Corr, now chairman of Tyromer said,
The idea was to take old tires and reuse them, to create a compound to make new tires to help create a circular economy.
Driving the circular economy
In 2009 Tyromer Inc., a tire-to-tire recycling start-up was formed with “Driving the tire circular economy” as its fitting slogan. The road from invention to scale-up and commercialization was long, and it involved wide collaboration to promote this disruptive devulcanization technology. Finally, TDP has been approved by a leading tire manufacturer and is now used in new tire production helping reduce rubber manufacturing’s carbon footprint.
Tyromer’s technology also makes economic sense. There is little interest in buying recycled products that are more expensive than new ones. Costs are kept low as Tzoganakis uses an extrusion process that features the novel use of supercritical carbon dioxide.
Tyromer now has three facilities, two in Canada and one in the Netherlands. Tyromer Inc. recently won a sustainability award from the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada . In fact, Tyromer has also won several other awards in the categories of sustainability and clean tech from various organizations around the world. Tzoganakis feels honoured to be the recipient of these accolades. He commented,
It means there is industry recognition of the significance of our work.
TDP is now used by one of the top tire brands in the world proving that it works at the highest quality level. Tzoganakis and Visaisouk, now CEO of the company, plan to license Tryomer’s technology and production system to create local jobs stimulating global economic benefit.