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Recycled rubber components: engineering more sustainable products for the solar market

TCT-Europe is a UK based, European company focused on the design, engineering, prototyping and volume manufacturing, using compression moulding, of products made from recycled rubber crumb. The company was set up three years ago, with operations in the UK and Poland, to take advantage of the growing innovation in sustainable materials emerging in Europe. According to Sarah Skinner, Managing Director and co-founder of TCT-Europe, the key is to understand the material possibilities of rubber crumb in products and use engineering and design to create equivalent or improved alternatives to current virgin synthetic rubber or plastic options.

According to ETRA (European Tire Recycling Association), there are over 3,900,000 tons of tyres removed from cars, lorries, agricultural and other vehicles in the EU-27 Member States which are currently classified as waste. In recent years there has been a significant improvement in the recycling of ‘End of Life’ Tyres in the EU. Now, less than 9% are sent to landfills, 17% are reused/exported/re-tread, 38% are recycled, and another 36% are used for energy production. Of those tyres that are recycled 63% are channelled into granulation/powders, for use as a base material for new products.

The initial focus for TCT-Europe has been to design and build volume OEM barrier, support blocks and cable management systems for European solar PV companies. TCT-Europe is also looking into products for solar car ports and solar charging points. This design process has been supported by key learning and design success from its sister company in the US Tire Conversion Technologies Inc, who have been in business since 2004 and who have built products for solar companies including SMA, Sunpower and K2.

So why build products from recycled tyre rubber? According to Mechanical Engineer and co-founder of TCT-Europe John Lidderdale, there are a number of drivers for this.

Tyre rubber has some key material qualities including high tensile and impact strength, resilience and abrasion resistance. It’s flexible in low temperatures and has decent heat resistance. In addition, because tyre rubber is vulcanised the material has a good ageing stability and is able to withstand UV and last for long periods outside, which is not the case for many other virgin synthetic rubbers or plastics.

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