Manufacturing, Manufacturing News, Research and Development, Sustainability

New steel manufacturing project to see trains roll on recycled tyres

A steel manufacturing process using waste rubber feedstock has been commercialised in a collaborative project with steel manufacturer Molycop.

A steel manufacturing process using waste rubber feedstock has been commercialised in a collaborative project with Australian steel manufacturer Molycop, UNSW, Crawford Boots, and the AMGC. 

The new, polymer injection process reduces the need for imported ‘coke’, reduces power use and emissions from the company’s electric arc furnace (EAF) in Newcastle, and diverts waste rubber from landfill.

Developed in collaboration with the UNSW Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Centre, footwear manufacturer Crawford Boots and the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), the technology will now be offered for export to global EAF operators.

The process involves maximising the recovery and utilisation of waste rubber from end-of-life vehicle tyres, conveyor belts and rubber safety boots as a substitute for imported carbonaceous material used in the company’s EAF) in Newcastle.

The development of the new technology reduces Molycop’s reliance on imported carbonaceous materials by up to 20 per cent, while removing up to 90,000 tyres from landfill and reducing the steelmaker’s electricity consumption, and scope one carbon emissions.

In practice, the company, alongside its partners, has developed a means to maximise the use of rubber crumb (polymer) as a source of carbon and hydrogen needed in the steel-making process.

Molycop’s president of sustainability, Ian Tooze said that sustainability is core to the company’s strategy and integrated into how Molycop does business.  Displacing fossil carbon materials is a key objective in Molycop’s decarbonisation pathway.

“We are investing in innovative solutions that improve the ways we reduce the consumption of virgin raw materials, recover valuable materials from waste streams, minimise waste and reduce our carbon footprint.  What we have developed is yielding results and delivering outcomes for Molycop, our customers and communities in which we operate.

“This project proves that Australia can develop and, critically, commercialise new and innovative ways to address waste and emissions that also benefits steelmakers’ bottom lines and the environment. Through AMGC we have bridged that commercialisation gap, developing a product, process and system that can now be offered to global EAF steelmakers.”

Director of the UNSW SMaRT Centre, Professor Veena Sahajwalla said it is crucial for manufacturers and researchers to work to tackle environmental issues, while delivering commercial outcomes.

“Climate change and clean energy narratives often overlook the need for more sustainable manufacturing and waste management practices, where we start to use waste resources for future manufacturing needs. Natural resources alone will not deliver the feedstock supply for all of society’s needs, so we need a far more sustainable approach, like some of the innovative recycling technologies we’ve developed at the UNSW SMaRT Centre.”

Penny Crawford, founder of Crawford Boots, said that working alongside a large manufacturer and a researcher has broadened the company’s field of view.

“Being involved with this project has led to us looking at the entire life cycle of our products. From protecting the feet of workers in mines to how our boots are used at time of disposal, we now have revised our products to make them more suitable to polymer injection technology – collaborative programs like AMGC’s lift the entire manufacturing industry.”

AMGC’s managing director, Dr Jens Goennemann said commercialising great manufacturing ideas is where Australia future prosperity lies.

“Australia has an opportunity to transform from being a lucky country to a smart one through the commercialisation of great ideas that have local and global relevance. Together, Molycop, UNSW and Crawford Boots have manufactured a product that will reduce emissions and address waste in steel making, while generating more jobs and revenues for the nation – what more could you ask for?”

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