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Tackling tyre mountains by turning waste into reusable rubber
Petra Group’s technology could help solve a growing environmental problem by creating a commercially viable product from old rubber

Datuk Vinod Sekhar is a man with a vision. As head of the Petra Group, a Malaysian company with interests spanning rubber recycling and renewable energy, he hopes to make the world a greener place in which to live. “We found an opportunity to earn money while making a difference,” he says. “It is that simple.”
At the heart of his agenda is Green Rubber, a breakthrough in waste disposal and recycling that essentially turns old rubber – particularly old car tyres – into new rubber. The Petra Group owns the worldwide patent rights to DeLink, thought to be the only commercially viable technology that enables scrap and waste rubber to be “devulcanised”, in a safe and non-toxic environment.

The process, a world first, breaks down tyre waste into a natural green rubber compound, 100 per cent of which can then be resold and used to manufacture all kinds of rubber products.

Described as the first commercially viable waste-free way to recycle more than one billion discarded tyres around the world, at the same time it produces Green Rubber, a new premium product that maintains the same durability of the rubber compound.

Dr Vinod says: “To us, the critical factor was: if you are going to create a technology or solution that has an impact or will work as a solution for humanity’s problems then it must be commercial. If it is not commercial, people will not buy into it.”

Rubber waste, specifically from tyres, is a growing environmental problem. Anyone who has seen the depressing sight of a smouldering tyre mountain will surely welcome the idea. Hollywood actors Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson certainly did and have endorsed the venture.

Taking this eco-friendly solution to the global market place remains a big step forward, however. The De-Link compound is now sold commercially in some Asian markets such as Thailand, Indonesia and China, but the intention is to take the idea much further, including Europe and North America.

Dr Vinod last year addressed an audience of nearly 400 Chief Executives at the Forbes CEO conference in Singapore, promoting Green Rubber Global, one of Petra Group’s subsidiaries. During 2008 there are plans to list the company on the London Stock Exchange. Former British energy minister Lord Colin Moynihan has been appointed as an Executive Chairman to help sell the idea to UK investors.

Perta Group’s technological breakthrough has revolutionised tyre disposal worldwide

Across the Atlantic, a manufacturing site is being set up in Gallup, New Mexico, which will provide more than 200 new jobs once at full capacity. Given the American passion for automobiles, and a growing concern about the environment, Petra Group is in the right place at the right time. In the US alone, more than 300 million tyres are discarded every year; around the world that figure is closer to 1.3 billion.

At present, those discarded tyres are either burnt in cement kilns or dumped in landfills, which can contaminate the soil, or end up as unsightly tyre mountains.

Dr Vinod, who started the company when he was just 18 years old, says the company’s technology breakthrough started a decade ago with the research work done by his father. “It took us 10 years to get it to where it is now.”

Initially, 12 parts of the DeLink compound were added to the rubber mix, but through the years this has been reduced to eight parts, and then just two parts. It means the formula is simple and cost-effective. During that period the market has also evolved with commodities prices soaring and environmental awareness growing.

“It took us a long time to get it right,” he says. “But as it has happened the market is now not just ready for a product like ours, it is hungering for it.” Although the idea is commercially driven the ultimate goal is to give something back both to the environment and to Malaysia. “I believe in giving back to society.”

Other technological innovations from the Petra Group include DeProtin, which addresses latex allergy, the use of scalar waves to treat HIV positive patients and software for the banking industry.

INTERVIEW DATUK VINOD SEKHAR, PETRA GROUP PRESIDENT AND CEO
‘We want to make this country the centre of innovation’

What is it that has motivated Malaysia to rethink its approach to the global market?

We came to the realisation that as a country of 24 million people, we are small and we need to look outwards. In doing so, we went and looked for new markets and opportunities that we could move immediately into. We need to create our own niche in a variety of areas. And in Malaysia’s case it is not only about creating products or innovations from within Malaysia, but bringing them to Malaysia and making them our own.

We want to make this country the centre of innovation. After all we are the ideal stepping stone to the vast and critical Chinese and Indian markets. To do this we have to create an environment conducive to innovation and development, for people to make this the home of their development then export and expand from here. I believe this is exactly what we as a country are doing now.

What political issues concern you as a Malaysian businessman?

We have to tackle issues like poverty eradication, empowerment, and job creation. These are key areas that are critical to me as a capitalist. In the long term, I need to create more people in the middle class. If I do not create more wealth, no one will buy my products. There is no market for me to sell to. If we do not find a solution for poverty, then we are cannibalising our market. It is all about who you sell to and what market you create and the spending power they have.
In Malaysia, we have done a great job tackling these issues and we have to continue doing what we are doing. Personally, I want everyone to become richer so I can do more business, so that I can have a bigger market. We all have to start playing a role to make this happen. Poverty is not good politically or economically.

What would be your message to potential investors in Malaysia?

It is important that people understand what Malaysia has to offer. It is a very special country. We are probably one of the world’s best kept secrets. Come and visit us and see what we have got. We are ready to do business. When the world comes to see our country for what it is, they are going to be amazed – not only in terms of business, but socially – how individuals in a multicultural country like ours have managed to prosper together. That says a lot.