STE. ETIENNE, France - Used tires are a plague on the global environment.
Every year, 200 million pile up in Europe alone. They pollute, they blight, they become breeding grounds for pests and they catch fire.
Economically, they are next to worthless.
The rubber is woven through with metal threads, making it difficult to separate out valuable components. And even if the rubber and metal are adequately segregated, there is not much of a market for the end product.
Didier Neron Bancel, managing director of SCMR, a small specialty recycling firm based here, thinks he may have a solution to the problem.
For the past two years, Bancel has been designing a machine that rips, rolls, tears and shreds tires into a fine powder, removing all of the metal in the process.
'We can make a commodity out of a waste, and do that cheaper than ever before,' Bancel said. 'This is the secret to success.'
The machine, which can process 200 tires per hour, has three stages. At the first station, two hydraulic metal fingers reach out and, hooking onto the rim of the tire, rip the metal beading away from the edge.
The tire is then sent through the main processing station. There, rollers, operating at different speeds and exerting 25 tons of pressure, pull, twist and stretch the tire.
When the rubber and metal is under this kind of stress, Bancel said, the metal threads actually burst their way from the rubber, shredding the tire on the way.
Finger-sized chunks of rubber emerge from the shoot, along with piles of blackened, twisted wire.
The third stage separates with both a magnetic sorter that pulls the metal from the rubber, and a vacuum blower further separates textile material. The rubber is then pulverized into a fine black dust.
Bancel says the unit, which he has priced at $500,000, runs for 5,000 hours before any maintenance is needed. Nine tire processors have expressed interest in the machine, he says.