UW startup nabs TiE50 award from Silicon Valley

Five years after its launch, UW startup Tyromer Inc. has continued to expand, recently winning the coveted TiE50 award from Silicon Valley.

The TiE50 awards are presented by a non-profit network of entrepreneurs and professionals to the most promising startups. Companies nominate themselves for this award, and the finalists then present their company goals and products at the TiEcon conference in Silicon Valley, California.

Tyromer Inc. was launched in 2009 to commercialize tire devulcanizing technology, which was invented by UW chemical engineering professor Costas Tzoganakis.

Devulcanization is a process that takes recycled rubber, breaks it down through heat, pressure, or the addition of softening agents, and returns it to its original plastic state.

“People think recycled rubber isn’t as strong, but that isn’t true,” said Tzoganakis.

The current view on recycling tires includes the concept of “end-of-life tires,” which, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, are tires that can no longer be used on vehicles after being re-treaded or re-grooved.

At the end of their life, tires are either left in landfills or recycled and turned into crumb rubber which is used for basketball courts, outdoor playground surfacing, or shoe soles.

Used tire disposal remains a huge environmental issue and it is estimated that during the 1980s and 1990s, 259 million tires were discarded annually.

The recent pushes by the Rubber Association of Canada and the Canadian Association of Tire Recycling Agencies have greatly shifted the management of end-of-life tires from disposal to recycling, though the issue of what to do with the crumb (recycled) rubber has emerged with these recycling programs.

Tyromer Inc. aims to solve that problem. By reducing the crumb rubber to its original plastic state, used tires can be used to create new tires. The technology created by Tzoganakis, which uses carbon dioxide to selectively break the cross-linking sulfur bonds within the tire and bring about rapid devulcanization, eradicates the need to find a new use for reclaimed rubber.

“This will benefit us environmentally … this technology will change the world’s perspective on how we dispose of used tires,” Tzoganakis said.

Tyromer Inc. entered the TiE50 competition with the hopes of raising their profile as well as for the networking opportunities that come along with the selection process.

“We are hoping to get some interest from investors to help us take this technology further,” said Tzoganakis. “We are hoping to expand the technology so that it can break down rubber more quickly, and break down different types of rubber.”

Tyromer Inc. currently holds patents for the technology in Canada and the United States, as well as a licence in France and pending licences in Croatia, Hungary, Russia, and Turkey.

“We are focusing on taking the technology as far, globally, as we can … we hope this award will help us to do that,” Tzoganakis said.


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