April 2006

Lehigh Technologies builds Georgia facility
by David J. Fournier

Lehigh Technologies, producers of fine rubber powders for various industries, has installed a new processing facility in Tucker, Georgia. Lehigh manufactures fine rubber powder, called PolyDyne™. It is produced in sizes ranging from 80 mesh (180 microns) to 200 mesh (75 microns), and is used in various applications such as specialty chemicals, tires and other automotive parts, and plastics.

Lehigh estimates that its new 83,000 sq.ft. Georgia facility will be able to churn out nearly 100 million pounds a year of fine rubber powder, more than four times the total current market. The rubber powder may be used as a substitute for virgin materials, the price of which has risen due to surges in Chinese demand and today’s higher price of oil. Says Dennis Gormley, chairman, president and CEO of Lehigh, “For the elastomeric-based industries, the PolyDyne™ and PolyFlow™ powders are value-added alternatives for virgin and synthetic polymers and resins. They lead to better control of material costs. Lehigh’s powders offer a unique solution to help combat the worldwide rubber materials shortage and price escalation.”

Lehigh managed to raise more than $8 million with a second round of private venture funding. This was used to begin limited production at the Tucker plant in September of 2005. In addition to its Georgia plant, Lehigh has plans to begin operating additional facilities by 2007 and 2008, each of which should produce an additional 100 million pounds of fine rubber powders. The locations for these additional facilities are still being sought.

Lehigh hopes that the new plants will make recycled rubber a more viable choice for manufacturers by producing it at a higher quality and volume. Mr. Gormley said, “In the past, manufacturers could not depend upon the quality of recycled materials and those materials were not available in sufficient commercial volume. They will be soon from Lehigh Technologies.” Several industries have been affected by the short supply of rubber powder. For instance, the tire industry has been manufacturing tires containing rubber powder in parts of the tire such as th1e tread, sidewall, and inner liner for decades. However, the practice has been curtailed by the short supplies and relatively high cost of the powders. Lehigh’s new process should help change that.

The feedstock for Lehigh’s product comes from scrap tire material and other scrap rubber. One of their facilities at full production consumes somewhere around six million tires on an annual basis. However, with a market for rubber powder at an estimated 1.7 billion pounds a year in North America alone, 6 million tires is small fraction of what will be required to fill such a need. Aside from reusing scrap tires, Lehigh’s product offers another important environmental benefit.

Tires are manufactured using eight gallons of oil per tire. If tires were manufactured using 10% rubber powder, that would amount to over a gallon of oil saved per tire. If this was done on a global scale, 36 million barrels of oil could be saved on an annual basis. Lehigh’s manufacturing process does not produce any industrial waste or dangerous by-products. In fact, the only by-product of the process is gaseous nitrogen.

The process for making the powder itself is revolutionary. Liquid nitrogen is used to reduce rubber scraps to temperatures between -100°F and -120°F at which point the rubber becomes as brittle as glass. Once the rubber has been frozen, it is sent through a high speed milling system that was up-scaled and adapted from European pharmaceutical machines.

Rigid quality controls are in place to ensure product uniformity. In fact, according to James Gray, vice president of sales and marketing, the process is on track to become ISO certified early this summer.

 


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