Tires with a little piece of the Negev

Beautiful coastlines, varied climate, majestic hills, verdant fields – Israel has been blessed with a rich variety of physical features. Not so much when it comes to minerals, though; Israel’s major natural resource is potash, mined mostly in the Dead …

Beautiful coastlines, varied climate, majestic hills, verdant fields – Israel has been blessed with a rich variety of physical features. Not so much when it comes to minerals, though; Israel’s major natural resource is potash, mined mostly in the Dead Sea area. But a new innovation by Dimona Silica Industries (DSI) promises to change that; and as a result, Israel’s Negev desert is set to become a world center for an important component in the manufacture of tires.

It’s all in the silica, says Ronen Peled, CEO of DSI: specifically, precipitated silica derived from porcellanite.

Silica (also known as silicon dioxide) is used in a wide variety of products, like glass, concrete, earthenware, computer chips, and even as a food additive. Silica is all over the place ? in sand and quartz. In fact, it’s the most abundant mineral in the earth’s crust.

To work with silica, however, you have to turn it from solid form into liquid. To make glass you have to heat sand up to a very high temperature – around 1,500 degrees centigrade – which basically “melts” the silica and allows the artisan to form the glass. That level of heat is a necessary first step in the production of silica, which is turned into a liquid and then “dried” into different forms for use in different products.

Except for Negev silica, it seems. The Negev is rich in a mineral called porcellanite, which is a waste material in the phosphate mining industry in Israel.

After much experimentation, Peled tells ISRAEL21c, scientists for DSI, discovered that instead of having to heat up the porcellanite to 1,500 degrees in order to extract amorphous silica, the material can be removed from the porcellanite when heated to only about 90 degrees centigrade.

An all round green business

“DSI is a green business, all around,” says Peled. “We take the waste left over by the phosphate industry and turn it into a usable product, which is of course biodegradable.

“We use far less energy than other silica producers, and we don’t use the various acids others use, which often leak into the groundwater. We even have our own electric power station that supplies the entire production process and enables DSI to cut down production expenses, and thus offer better pricing,” he says.

And there’s plenty of silica to go around; The Negev has the world’s only supply of porcellanite from which amorphous silica can easily be produced. According to Peled, it has a 300-year supply of the stuff.

While the silica produced by DSI can be used in many different ways, the company’s main project these days is producing precipitated silica for the tire industry. The reason? Because there is a great demand around the world for environmentally friendly tires.

“Many jurisdictions today require that at least a portion of every tire sold be made out of recycled or recyclable materials, because tire production is known to be one of the biggest industrial polluters around,” says Peled.

Research has also shown that precipitated silica is an excellent element for use in tires, according to Peled, as it helps with traction and braking. As a result, many manufacturers have been including it in their tires. “But our production process is much more environmentally friendly and cheaper, so we believe the world is going to prefer our Negev silica,” says Peled.

A decade of work

Indeed, a number of companies – including some very large tire manufacturers – have recently contacted Peled to discuss DSI’s precipitated silica, marketed under the name Dimosil.

DSI has been working on this product for nearly a decade. It took several years to perfect the technology, which has now been patented, and to pass the regulatory hurdles required by law. The backbone of the system that enables the silica to be processed was developed by Malam Team. DSI has now leased the rights to convert the porcellanite for 50 years.

DSI, he says, plans to pay the Israeli government back for its faith in the company by becoming a major employer in the Negev. “We’re ramping up production now, and building a new factory. When it’s done, we will be employing about 400 people, making us one of the largest employers in the area.”

And hopefully, adds Peled, this will be just the beginning. “We have a 300 year supply of porcellanite in the Negev, and since our process is cheaper and more environmentally sound than other silica production methods, we hope to gain a significant share of silica production for the world tire market. We’ve shown our product to the world’s top labs and scientists in this field, and everyone walks away impressed.”

DSI’s silica, based on a natural resource found only in Israel, is certainly unique. But also significant is the fact that the company’s scientists have managed to find an important use for what until now had been considered nothing more than an annoying waste product.