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LANDMARK SUCCESS: TARRC and MRB engineers designed the rubber bearing system for the construction of the second Malaysia-Penang bridge, the world’s largest structure on seismic rubber bearings

LANDMARK SUCCESS: TARRC and MRB engineers designed the rubber bearing system for the construction of the second Malaysia-Penang bridge, the world’s largest structure on seismic rubber bearings

Highly focused, technology-based research initiatives by the UK-based Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre (TARRC) have provided momentum to the rubber industry. An example is its development of base isolation technology that has now entered the mainstream of earthquake engineering, says Dr Kamarudin Ab-Malek, CEO, in the second and final part of his interview with Polymers & Tyre Asia

By PTA News Bureau

Tyres using Ekoprena are not just “green” tyres, from the perspective of minimising their environmental impact, with reduced petroleum use in their manufacture and lower fuel consumption. They are also “eco” tyres, meaning they are derived from sustainable resources, stresses Dr Kamarudin Ab-Malek, CEO of Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre (TARRC). The rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis, itself contributes significantly to carbon sequestration and thus helps to counter CO2 emissions.

Other tyre manufacturers are concentrating on the “green” aspects of tyre production, through development of rubber materials which avoid the use of petroleum feedstocks. “I envisage that in the long term, more companies will adopt a similar approach to Sumitomo, which also considers the overall sustainability of the raw materials,” Dr Kamarudin hoped.

“Forecasts of the market for the ‘green tyres’ suggest that it is currently growing by about 10 per cent annually and will be well over 1 billion units by 2015. If we can capture just a tenth of the market, in the next five years or so, production of Ekoprena will reach our target of 300,000 tonnes by 2020,” he pointed out.

Despite the increased interest in alternative forms of synthetic rubber, all the signs point to continuing growth in demand for natural rubber, particularly for tyres, and for natural rubber – and materials derived from natural rubber – to take a larger share of the market for rubber materials in tyres.

New markets for Ekoprena and other “green” sustainable rubber material – Pureprena – will be developed. Pureprena is a new generation of Deproteinised natural rubber which is currently being produced by the Malaysian Rubber Board. It is made by treating natural rubber latex with an industrial enzyme, which hydrolyses the naturally-occurring proteins in the latex into water-soluble forms.

TARRC, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in January 2013, has also developed Ekoprena 50 and this and Ekoprena 25h have non-tyre applications, one of which is currently under development in a fire retardant compound for the rail industry, including testing for use in the London Underground system. ”I am confident that this class of compound will have potential for railway applications worldwide.”

Rubber innovation

Laminated natural rubber and steel bearings are now used all over the world to accommodate the movement of bridge decks, reduce transmission of ground-borne vibrations into buildings or structures and to protect them from damage following earthquakes.

TARRC led the world with the development of these bearings in the mid 1950s and the Pelham railway bridge in Lincoln was the first of many civil engineering projects in the UK to incorporate this type of bearing.

Following this initial success, throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, TARRC extended the idea to isolate buildings from noise and vibration of road or rail traffic, including underground railways. The first example was an apartment block, Albany Court, over the St James Park Underground Station in London.

Research then followed to extend the idea further to protect buildings from earthquakes, in collaboration with the Engineering Research Center in California. This resulted in the high damping natural rubber bearings which are used today.

The technique of base isolation has now entered the mainstream of earthquake engineering through the efforts of TARRC engineers at numerous international conferences and meetings.

Full text in PTA December-January issue

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