Scientists Create Less Toxic, Greener Rubberized Running Surfaces

R&D 100 Staff
March 20, 2018, 3:42 p.m.

Walkways, running tracks and playgrounds are commonplace in schools and public spaces all over the world, but the surfaces can be littered with harmful materials.

Most all-weather synthetic track and field, playgrounds and walkways are created from two-part polyurethane (PU) and silane-PU based adhesive technology. However, these traditional materials often come with a significant amount of organic solvents, processing additives and heavy metal catalysts, resulting in the discharge of large amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and harmful substances like heavy metals and carcinogenic aromatic molecules into the atmosphere.

To combat this problem, the Dow Chemical Company has unveiled ECOGROUND, a water-borne, acrylic based adhesive system that will give runners a greener track to run on and school children an environmentally-friendly surface for their playground equipment.

ECOGROUND received the Bronze Award for Special Recognition: Green Tech as part of the 2017 R&D 100 Awards program. They were presented the award at The R&D 100 Awards Gala held in Orlando, Florida on Nov. 17, 2017.

The new adhesive contains a low amount of VOC and does not produce much of an odor. Tong Sun, PhD, an associate R&D director of Asia Pacific Building & Construction for Dow Chemical, explained how the acrylic surface is created.

“Water-borne acrylics serve as the adhesive to bond rubber particles/powders together,” Tong said in an interview with R&D Magazine. “Crosslinkers help tune the mechanical property of ECOGROUND system including tensile strength, rebounding strength.”

The water-borne binder’s primary role is to bond together rubber particles, like recycled tire rubber and ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber, to produce a resilient, shock-absorbing surface.

The water-based adhesive fully replaces organic solvents to allow functional adhesives, rubber particles, inorganic fillers and functional additives to be mixed and blended on the job site. This allows for a range of application methods, including machine paving, manual troweling and machine spraying.

The VOC attributed to ECOGROUND are below 0.05 mg/m2, compared to about seven mg/m2 for approved two-part PU-based system.

Tong said that at the end of the service life, the surface should be either recyclable or burnable without creating additional waste.

Tong also explained that the users would hardly notice a difference between the ECOGROUND system and traditional running tracks and walkways.

“It’s similar to the traditional running track, sports court,” Tong said. “No difference in terms of performance when they run on it.”

The adhesive forms a continuous layer of base coat, mid coat and top coat while being applied on a treated substrate of asphalt or concrete. This allows cross-linkers to react with binders, rubber particles and fillers to build up a strong polymer composite matrix and achieve fast drying, mechanical properties, and ultimately durability.

With populations in countries like China and India exploding, the need for clean environments for sports and recreation is growing, particularly as issues involving running tracks have been discovered at schools and sports facilities in China in the last decade.

Dow has filed two patents on the new technology. Tong said the plan moving forward is to produce surfaces for all types of water-borne running tracks and sports surfaces, including permeable and non-permeable constructions, according to relevant International Association of Athletics Federations criteria and specifications.

Apply for the 2018 R&D 100 Awards

ECOGROUND received the Bronze Award for Special Recognition: Green Tech as part of the2017 R&D 100 Awards program. They were presented the award at The R&D 100 Awards Gala held in Orlando, Florida on Nov. 17, 2017. See the full list of 2017 R&D 100 Award Winners here.

The R&D 100 Awards have served as the most prestigious innovation awards program for the past 56 years, honoring R&D pioneers and their revolutionary ideas in science and technology.

Submissions for the 2018 R&D 100 Awards are now being accepted. Any new technical product or process that was first available for purchase or licensing between January 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018, is eligible for entry in the 2018 awards. Entries for the R&D 100 Awards can be entered under five general product categories— Mechanical Devices/ Materials, IT/Electrical, Analytical/Test, Process/Prototyping, and Software/Services.

The deadline is June 1, 2018.

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