Martyn Bennett, Chief Scientist at independent rubber consultants, ARTIS, reflects on the launch of a new group that is calling for the wider use of sustainable materials, with an initial focus on overcoming the challenges of Recovered Carbon Black (rCB).
On Wednesday 18th January ARTIS’ launched its ‘Sustainable Materials Group’ at The Institute for Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) in London, to an audience of over 50 delegates from companies and academia.
Launching the Group, ARTIS’ Dr Chris Norris gave a keynote presentation during which he called for, amongst other things, that all those involved in sustainable rubber materials to work together to promote their wider use. He explained how ARTIS will facilitate this interaction through the Sustainable Materials Group and be the centre of technical expertise for its members to help solve the key issues faced by the field.
Dr Norris explained that, initially, the Group will be focussed on Recovered Carbon Black (rCB) and detailed ARTIS’ specific solutions to counter rCB’s challenges. In a further presentation, he focused on the unique nature of rCB. In this, he emphasised that rCB is not equivalent to a regular Carbon Black and that, for its success, it is necessary that attitudes shift towards it being regarded as a new material rather than a conventional Carbon Black product. He argued that rCB has a different, not worse, in-rubber performance than regular Carbon Blacks and that, subsequently, the right application must be found for it. He pointed out the need for definitions and of specifications around this material in order to ensure more uniformity in the quality of rCB output to be able to better predict its in-rubber performance. This was highlighted in the 2016 benchmarking programme which demonstrated the range in quality of current rCB offerings.
The presentation and subsequent panel discussion provoked much debate around sustainable materials and why these materials prove hard to sell. Much of this was centred around rCB and a key and reoccurring issue was the name chosen for the material.
Explaining, Dr Norris pointed out that by its very name, rCB indicates it is a Carbon Black when, actually, it is a unique new material and should be treated as such. Some audience members argued that the name should be changed, whereas others believed this would confuse people and that the current name, although misleading, should stay the same. Audience members also stated that they felt there was not enough data on rCB available and that this is needed in order to prove rCB is a viable replacement of Carbon Black.
Sustainable materials as a whole
On the issues surrounding sustainable materials as a whole, the problems with getting the whole lifecycle integrated from the waste manager, to the recycler, to the end user of the product were discussed. It was agreed that this is proving to be a major barrier in the uptake of recycled or sustainable materials. Centrally, the problems with selling sustainability were raised. The major barrier to uptake is that many times the most sustainable solution is not the most cost-effective. The appeal of the product being sustainable is not enough for customers to pay the higher price. It was suggested that there needs to be a shift in the global mentality for the more expensive, sustainable product to be selected.
A key point that also arose from the discussion was that, by exploring synergies in the recycling process between different sectors, recycling could be better promoted. For example, from the production of rCB, energy can be generated from gas and pyrolysis oil. used for energy generation is obtained.rCB production plants could be made a lot more viable if tThe extra financial incentives of selling energy back to the grid or using it for the plant needs to be considered in the overall economics.
Sustainability at all levels
During the event, other issues, such as the need to understand the incorporation of sustainability into all levels of a product, from the materials that make up the formulation to the manufacture and performance of the product itself, were discussed, as well as issues highlighting value optimisation, the circular economy and cost efficiency.
In all, the debate and conversation justified the need for a group of this kind to create the momentum and community needed for the uptake and promotion of sustainable materials. Networking during the course of the event saw relationships being built between partners and interest growing steadily in membership.