Lowell-UMass Lowell announced today a licensing agreement to market revolutionary new materials made from recycled rubbers and plastics.
The new materials use a patented technology invented by Dr. Joey Mead and colleagues in the Plastics Engineering Department, and has been licensed to Re-Engineered Composite Systems (RECS), of Odessa, Texas. The initial research was funded by the Chelsea Center for Recycling and Economic Development.
The UMass Lowell technology uses chemical agents to graft plastics onto the surfaces of rubber particles, leading to improvements in the compatibility of the rubber and plastic that has not previously been achieved. The result is a truly recycled thermoplastic-thermoset blend with improved tensile strength and impact resistance, as well as flexural strength and greater elongation.
"We have a simple, general technique that can be used to produce thermoplastic elastomer materials, made from recycled feedstocks, that possess the mechanical properties necessary for improved product performance in a variety of applications and markets," says RECS President J. Wayne Rodrigue. "Until now, attempts to blend recycled cured rubber with plastics have been largely unsuccessful. But, now we're able to blend high levels of elastomer, up to 60 to 75% by weight, without degrading strength and other properties."
Dr. Mead says about the new technology, "The work was technically challenging and I credit the effort of our graduate student Helen Liu. It's important to find ways to use old tires that are also good for the environment."
RECS will develop, manufacture and market materials made using this technology and has already demonstrated that the process works at production scale. UMass Lowell will receive royalties on every product sold that incorporates the new technology-a large market potential. Potential applications include parts such as gaskets for household appliances, automotive parts, weatherstripping, consumer packaging, hoses and seals, storage containers, parts of medical supplies, and parts of toys.
The Chelsea Center for Recycling and Economic Development funded Dr. Mead's original research. The Center's Research and Development Grant Program funds projects that aim to overcome technical barriers to the increased use of materials that would otherwise end up in landfills as waste.
Created by the Massachusetts legislature in 1995, the Chelsea Center's mission is to create jobs, support recycling efforts and help the economy and environment by increasing the use of recovered materials by Massachusetts manufacturers. The research grant money comes from unredeemed bottle deposits in the Clean Environment Fund, through the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.
"We see funding university research as a key component in the overall effort to expand our ability to increase the recycling rate in the state," said Alan Moore, director of technical programs for the Chelsea Center. "This project is a perfect example of how the results of technical research can lead to a new process and new products. And that helps the economy not only by creating new businesses for new products, but also by expanding the demand for the waste materials used as feedstock for the new products."
UMass Lowell, a comprehensive university with special expertise in applied science and technology, is deeply committed to educating students for lifelong success and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental, and social health of the region. Lowell offers its 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students more than 80 degree programs in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Health Professions, and Management, and the Graduate School of Education.