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Lehigh named 2010 technology pioneer for recycling rubber

Lehigh Technologies has been named one of theWorld Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers for 2010. It was one of only 26 companies to be selected to the 2010 class out of over 300 contestants, and although a number of other clean-tech companies were selected among the 26, Lehigh’s take on green isn’t the kind that gets much time in the spotlight: It recycles rubber.

The company uses tires that are at the end of their life and grinds them down to “ultra-fine powder”. This powder can then be used to make rubber hoses for cars, soles for shoes, bicycle tires, paints and sealants amongst other uses. It can be used almost anywhere standard rubber would be.

Lehigh, located in Tucker, Georgia, not only can cut the materials cost for a business using rubbers, but its blended rubber is also apparently of a very desirable quality. Automobile tires are required to have certain mechanical properties that demand a higher quality of rubber; by using recycled tires the powder is higher grade by default. Their rubbers are also treated with a cryogenic process (freezing to extremely cold temperatures) to achieve better separation of steel and fiber components when the rubber scraps go through a “hammer mill”. This results in a more pure and finer ground rubber product. Think black talcum powder with a high coefficient of friction. The company offers powders down to 50 microns in grain size, too.

A side benefit of Lehigh’s cryogenic separation process is that as the steel and fiber are removed more efficiently, it could also be recycled more easily. Tires made with Lehigh rubber powders will also use 10 percent less oil in the manufacturing process.

Don’t look for Lehigh-brand rubberized paint or automotive hoses, though. Lehigh sells its powder in 1000-2000 lb bags, primarily to industrial concerns.

In 2007 Lehigh formed a strategic partnership with MTR, the Southeast US’s largest collector of scrap tires. In June of last year, Lehigh closed a $34.5 million round of funding from Kleiner Perkins and Index Ventures.

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