MRP acceptance slow but steady, says Lehigh Technologies

When we spoke to Lehigh Technologies’ Kedar Murthy in 2016, he commented that smart tyre makers were well aware that they wouldn’t enjoy bargain basement raw material prices forever. What none of us realised at the time was that we didn’t have long to wait before prices went through the roof. Although the cost of natural and synthetic rubber has now come back from the peaks we saw in the first few months of the year, they’re still sitting comfortably above 2016 levels. This is good news for micronised rubber powder (MRP) specialist Lehigh Technologies.

“Interest has increased due to this rise, especially in China and India,” comments Lehigh’s vice-president and general manager. These markets lie within a region where a good quarter of the products manufactured in the Lehigh Technologies plant in Atlanta, USA are sold, and demand there is growing healthily. It’s not hard to see why when Murthy does some sums: Using a passenger car tyre plant with an annual output of 10 million units as an example, he calculates a delta price difference of US$1.8 million to $2.4 million a year when Lehigh Technologies’ PolyDyne 80 Mesh MRP is included as a five per cent mix in just the tread compound.

Last year the Atlanta plant was operating at around half its 70,000 tonne a year capacity, giving ample scope to meet growing demand. Current annual tonnage figures aren’t available; however, Lehigh Technologies’ global capacity will increase later this year when its 10,000 tonnes per annum joint venture facility in Navarra, Spain goes into service. Kedar Murthy shares that construction work is continuing at the plant, which is located at joint venture partner’s tyre recycling facility, and Lehigh Technologies expects it will be ready for commissioning and testing in the second half of this year.

So far, around 470 million tyres have been manufactured using PolyDyne MRP, and Murthy is confident that further tyre manufacturers will see the material’s merits. “Development by most tyre companies is admittedly very slow,” he adds. “As I have said before, using MRP is the single best cost savings opportunity for a tyre company to embrace with immediate impact.” While the Lehigh vice-president and general manager rues that some tyre makers “are completely ignoring” the benefit of using MRP, he is heartened by the fact that others “have developed a strategic plan around global implementation.”

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