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
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
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
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.