By: Jay Pennell
There is no doubt Goodyear Racing tires are essential to NASCAR racing. Each weekend the tires are literally where the rubber meets the road for the sport, but what happens when the tire’s purpose has been fulfilled?
Liberty Tire, the official tire recycler of NASCAR Green, ensures each tire used in NASCAR competition is not only handled properly and recycled, but also makes sure it is turned into something extremely useful.
Once the tires come off the car, they are loaded onto a trailer at the racetrack and shipped to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina. After they are inspected, they are then shipped to the Liberty Tire Recycling Center just down the road. Through barcodes, Liberty Tire is able to track each tire ‘from cradle to grave.’
Throughout the course of a year, Liberty Tire recycles roughly 300,000 tires between the Sprint Cup, XFINITY, Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Home Tracks. For Tom Carter, vice president of alternative fuels for Liberty Tire, the emphasis is keeping all of those tires out of landfills.
"It is a great use of what was a problematic waste," said Carter. "Over the last three decades we have been able to produce products that consumers desire and that are making a difference."
When the NASCAR tires arrive at the Liberty Tire Recycling Center in Concord, NC, each of them are ground down to a specific size before being transformed for use in multiple applications. Some of the ground tires may be shipped to other Liberty plants, depending on what the end product will be.
One application for the ground up rubber is tire derived fuel. The ground rubber chips are blended with wood, coal or biomass to form a blended fuel, which improves emissions and has a 30 to 40 percent higher heat value with less emissions. The fuel is typically used in power utility boilers, cement kilns and paper mills. Carter emphasized the tire derived fuel is a clean and renewable fuel source, and the tires are being reclaimed for a better use.
Another use of the recycled tires is to create rubberized mulch. Under this process, the steel is removed from the tire through a grinding and magnetic process. Once the metal is removed, the rubber is ground down to a specific size and colored to become mulch. The rubberized mulch is used at the NASCAR R&D Center, around trees planted as part of the NASCAR Green program and at 54 NASCAR Home Tracks.
Carter points out there are numerous advantages of rubberized mulch over traditional wood mulch. Unlike wood, the rubberized mulch does not hold water and cause rot. It also deters termites since they are attracted to wood. In addition, rubberized mulch is much more economical because it is guaranteed to hold its color for 12 years.
The rubberized mulch is also used around playgrounds, and has been proven to be safer for children than wood or sand fills. Due to the rubber composite, the mulch is more forgiving when a child falls and has been certified to significantly reduce concussions.
Along with tire derived fuel and rubberized mulch, the tires can also be recycled into crumb rubber. The tire is ground down to a mesh, about the size of a BB or even into a powder. This crumb rubber is used in floor mats, carpet backing, walking trails, artificial turf surfaces, running tracks and as a composite material in manufacturing.
In addition to those uses, the crumb rubber can also be mixed with asphalt to create rubberized pavement. The rubberized pavement has a number of advantages over traditional asphalt or concrete surfaces, Carter notes.
Due to the elasticity, rubberized pavement reduces potholes because it allows the asphalt to expand and contract with temperature changes. The rubberized pavement also reduces road noise and water spray from vehicles in wet conditions. Thanks to the rubber mixture, the pavement also drains water more efficiently, making it easier to dry the surface quicker. The rubberized pavement also typically lasts two times longer than traditional asphalt, which means it cuts down on the amount of repaving that is needed over the course of time.
While rubberized pavement is making strides on residential roads and highways across the country, Carter strongly believes it could possibly be used in NASCAR in the future.
Aside from their involvement in recycling the used racing tires, Carter said being part of the NASCAR Green program is a point of pride for Liberty Tire and something that helps their business overall.
"We’re extremely proud to be a NASCAR Green Partner, because they’re a leader on so many fronts," said Carter. "From the integration of green products to bringing us all together in forums to allow us to exchange ideas with other companies that have similar green initiatives, we’re very pleased to be a part of the program."