It was in the 1990s when Tan Sri BC Sekhar, former chairman of the Malaysian Rubber Research and Development Board, came up with DeLink Technology that recycles waste tyres into a new form of rubber compound.
What it means is that tyres, made from vulcanised rubber (a process that allows rubber to be more stable by cross-linking sulphur bonds) can be de-vulcanised and reprocessed into raw material for the rubber industry.
According to Tan Sri BC Sekhar’s son Datuk Vinod Sekhar, it was his father’s dream to create a viable and sustainable solution to tackling rubber waste: “My father and his close friend Dr Vitaly Kormer worked very closely to create this technology. The late Sekhar was known in as Mr Natural Rubber for his contribution in modernising Malaysia’s natural rubber industry.
“At that time, they knew used tyres were an environmental hazard. Haphazardly disposed tires become breeding ground for mosquitoes. And when tires catch fire, it doesn’t go out easily- creating massive contamination to our air and soil.
“Those days, the technology was slightly commercialised, but the world wasn’t ready for green. We were hit by global financial crisis and there were too many shareholders. I decided that this technology has to be evolved and to make things commercial, we needed to take it to the next step.”
“So, I bought everyone out and told dad: “Let’s start again.”
Their entrepreneurial plans took a backseat in the era of the previous government since Vinod became quite disaffected with the political developments during that era. He admits that he had to lie low and put his plans on the backburner – reignited when the 60-year reign of the previous government ignominiously ended with the May 9 general election, Pakatan Harapan victory.
"I had an issue with the Barisan Nasional regime at that time. My outspokenness and my willingness to say it openly, is not something businessmen are 'meant to do', says Vinod. "We’re meant to do business, keep quiet, or enjoy the largesse from the government."
"I’ve never taken a government contract in my life, I’ve not inherited any money from anybody - just my father’s reputation and his work which is worth more than billions."
GREEN RUBBER EXPANSION PLANS
For Vinod, creating a solution to recycle rubber is not enough if there is no lasting, global impact. He says: “You can have the best solution and people will give you an award for it but unless it’s commercial, it has no global impact and it doesn’t make the necessary changes.”
Acknowledging the urgency to recycle waste rubber, Vinod founded Green Rubber Global and continued the development and commercialisation of the DeLink process.
This year, Green Rubber Global is set to launch a factory facility in Putra Industrial Park, replacing its manual labour manufacturing with automated system. The company’s laboratory is also with equipped with specialised refiners to manufacture green rubber.
“In the same space that could produce 5,000 tonnes before can now produce over 25,000 tonnes a year! That is only for one line of production. We can have multiple lines.”
“This new factory will allow us to be consistent in terms of quality and the output of what we’re producing. We can also scale our production better." Vinod adds that the company has already secured orders from customers for the next five years, adding that he plans to set up 13 more factories around the world in the next 24 months.
The factories will be located in the areas where the there is the impetus and demand to recycle rubber. According the Green Rubber's team, they are against bringing rubber waste from around the world to Malaysia.
At the moment, Green Rubber see the biggest potential arising from the Europe, UK, Australia and India, where a lot of rubber tyres and rubber waste being produced. They anticipate the growth of green rubber will be fuelled by the environmental movement in the region.
The company is already planning to set up two factories in Europe, without disclosing the exact location.
THE REVOLUTIONARY DELINK PROCESS
Among the products that can be produced using green rubber includes carpet underlay, shoe outer sole, motorbike tyres, golf grip and swimming fins.
“It’s a chemical reaction - our secret recipe!” says Clayton Beauchamp, SVP of Factory Development and Product Research & Development. “A compound, non-toxic environmentally friendly mixture that creates that reaction that allows for the recycling to take place.
“We take pure rubber crumb and mix it with our proprietary dealing chemistry and put it through an automated process. The material is metered into our mixture and everything is electronically controlled.
“It is a continuous process and at the end, our lab technicians will be taking samples to check for quality and consistency,”
He adds, the product (de-vulcanised rubber) is then manufactured into sheets and ready to be used just as virgin rubber sheets.
Currently, Green Rubber Global is selling their products at USD1,250 per tonne.
“We have 70-80 percent of the original properties of rubber tyre compounds - which means it is very high in rubber. A new unused rubber compound with the same property will cost you more than USD2,000 per tonne, “says Vinod.
“We are unlike any other. What I am prouder is that it is Malaysian,” he adds.
Watch the full interview with Datuk Vinod Sekhar and AWANI Review's Cynthia Ng where he emphasises the need to rethink capitalism for a more inclusive growth. He says it’s time for businesses to see that making money and doing good can be mutually beneficial. He views social capitalism as the way forward for Malaysia.