Using waste rubber for steel manufacturing

Tuesday, 09 May, 2023

Using waste rubber for steel manufacturing

In a collaborative project with Australian steel manufacturer Molycop, the UNSW SMaRT Centre, footwear manufacturer Crawford Boots and the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMBC), a novel steel manufacturing process using waste rubber feedstock has been commercialised.

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 electric arc furnace (EAF) in Newcastle.

The new technology reduces Molycop’s reliance on imported carbonaceous materials by up to 20%, 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 and its partners have developed a means to maximise the use of rubber crumb (polymer) as a source of carbon and hydrogen needed in the steelmaking process.

Ian Tooze, Molycop President of Sustainability, said a key objective for the company is to displace fossil carbon materials to reduce the consumption of virgin raw materials, recover valuable materials from waste streams and reduce carbon footprint.

“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,” Tooze said.

Veena Sahajwalla, Director of the UNSW Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) centre, said it is crucial for manufacturers and researchers to work to tackle environmental issues while delivering commercial outcomes.

“By working collaboratively with Molycop, we have been able to prove that polymer injection works and is commercially viable. It is only through partnerships like this that we can truly achieve positive environmental outcomes at scale,” she said.

Penny Crawford, Founder of Crawford Boots, said, “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.”

As a result of the collaborative project, Molycop and its partners have developed an exportable product and process which can be made available to global EAF operators.

Jens Goennemann, AMGC Managing Director, said commercialising great manufacturing ideas is where Australia’s future prosperity lies. Doing so will reduce emissions and waste while generating more jobs and revenue for the nation.

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