UB Center Will Research New Uses for New York State's Old Tires

Release Date: June 1, 2007

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A. Scott Weber, director of UB's Center for Integrated Waste Management and Louis P. Zicari, Jr., associate director, look at tires that will be recycled thanks to a grant to the center to expand civil engineering uses for discarded tires.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Twenty million. That's how many tires New Yorkers discard every year. Once a public health and environmental hazard responsible for sparking toxic fires and breeding vermin and insects, used tires now are seen as a valuable economic resource.

To fully leverage that resource, the University at Buffalo's Center for Integrated Waste Management has been awarded $1.8 million by Empire State Development to expand the use of recycled tires in construction applications through research and education.

The effort, called the New York State Tire Derived Aggregate Program, is the state's most comprehensive effort yet to explore and establish new markets for used tires in civil-engineering applications.

Daniel Gunderson, Empire State Development upstate chairman, said it is "taking a new, integrated approach to reviving the upstate economy. The UB center is a great example of how university research can be translated into marketable products that will create jobs."

The purpose of the program is to serve as a catalyst to promote the use of tire-derived aggregate (TDA) or tire chips, as they are known commonly, in civil-engineering applications around the state.

"New York State's interest is in making sure there is a healthy and diverse market for recycled tire products," said Louis P. Zicari, Jr., associate director of the UB Center for Integrated Waste Management and one of the principal investigators on the Empire State Development grant. "We're helping the state diversify the TDA market by looking at technological, economic and regulatory issues."

Under the program, the Center for Integrated Waste Management will conduct research on the use of tire chips for civil-engineering applications and establish a central clearinghouse of information on the subject, tracking progress of all civil-engineering uses of tire chips around the state. It also will establish a forum to bring together state and national stakeholders, including tire-chip producers, intermediary consumers, end users, technology providers, government agencies, researchers and regulators.

Empire State Development has charged the TDA program at UB with functioning as a third-party, neutral source to convene stakeholders both at the national and state levels on the subject of civil engineering applications for tire chips.

That's a role that the Center for Integrated Waste Management is suited ideally to play, according to A. Scott Weber, Ph.D., executive director of the center, co-principal investigator with Zicari and professor and chair of the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

"We're not manufacturers and we're not regulators," Weber said. "We can provide a sound scientific basis on which to base rational judgments unfettered by self-interest."

According to Zicari, Western New York is a logical place to site such a project, given that more tire recycling companies are located here than in any other region in the state. At the same time, the project will involve companies and organizations throughout the state.

Some of the construction applications that will be studied under the new program include septic system leach fields, insulating layers for new roads, lightweight fill to use behind bridge embankments and backfill for building foundations.

The announcement of the five-year grant builds on a successful demonstration project that the UB Center for Integrated Waste Management conducted for Empire State Development in which the researchers designed, installed and analyzed the benefits of a full-size septic leach field using TDA as a replacement for stone aggregate.

It is the only demonstration project in the state that involved testing tire chips as a replacement for stone aggregate in septic system applications.

The project examined permeability of TDA, leaching, metal concentrations in soil, long-term durability and other properties.

Installed in 2000 at Modern Corporation's tire recycling facility in Model City, N.Y., the wastewater treatment system services a building used by more than a dozen employees over two shifts, a scale equivalent to the level of use that would occur in a typical four-person household.

Seven years later, the system continues to function properly and in a manner that is comparable to stone aggregate. It also undergoes periodic scientific, technical and engineering analysis.

As a result of the UB center's demonstration project, the New York State Department of Health is expected to approve the use of recycled tires in septic system applications in the near future.

According to the Center for Integrated Waste Management, a single septic system utilizing TDA would successfully recycle at least 1,500 discarded tires. That means that just 1,400 new septic systems per year in the state would utilize more than 2-million discarded tires.

The center's preliminary cost comparison also showed that TDA should be 10-15 percent less expensive than stone aggregate.

Zicari noted that while several other states already have approved tire chips in wastewater treatment applications, few have completed the rigorous scientific, technical or economic analyses as detailed as those conducted by the Center for Integrated Waste Analysis. (Reports are available at ).

"Our work is going far beyond the scope of what most other states have done," said Weber.

The New York State Waste Tire Management & Recycling Act of 2003 established the state's priorities for the recycling and reuse of scrap tires, as well as the development of economically viable and environmentally beneficial alternatives to landfilling or stockpiling. The TDA program in the Center for Integrated Waste Management directly addresses one of the provisions of the act, requiring Empire State Development to implement a comprehensive program to expand scrap tire recycling markets.

The TDA program also addresses a shortage of stone aggregate that some counties are facing. As the opening of new stone quarries is minimized, this shortage is a consistent problem throughout the state.

In addition to Zicari and Weber, John J. Spagnoli, research fellow in the Center for Integrated Waste Management, and UB undergraduate and graduate students will be involved in the TDA program.

Based in the UB Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, the Center for Integrated Waste Management, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, seeks innovative solutions to environmental challenges by bringing together members of academia, industry and government to find better ways to conserve and recover natural and man-made resources used in industrial processes and by consumers. It was established in 1987 by the New York State Legislature as the New York State Center for Hazardous Waste Management to initiate and coordinate environmental research and technology development.

The announcement of this project comes during UB's "Greener Shade of Blue" initiative to raise awareness about climate change and celebrate the university's longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 27,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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