Officials get tour of Vidalia rubber recycling plant

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 12, 2009

VIDALIA — District 21 Rep. Andy Anders summed up his tour through the Louisiana Elastomer rubber recycling plant with one word — “impressive.”

Anders was one of approximately 30 area VIPs who was given a tour of the LAEL plant Tuesday, the first official peek into its operations by those not directly involved.

Others in attendance included District 32 Sen. Neil Riser and U.S. Congressman Rodney Alexander.

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“I had heard about (the factory), but I hadn’t had a chance to come down here, so I was glad to get a chance to come through and see the different aspects of how it works,” Alexander said.

As company officials guided the tour through the factory, they explained the special process LAEL uses to recycle rubber, a process so stylized that cameras aren’t allowed into certain parts of the factory for fear the company’s competitors might see a picture of their equipment and duplicate it.

“We are the only ones in the United States doing (this process),” LAEL CEO Mike Wells said. “We believe we are the only ones in the world doing it to the extent of the quality we do.”

To ensure that quality, the factory has a laboratory with more than $60,000 in equipment in it, and has plans to expand the lab and add another $65,000 in equipment later, Vice President Tommy Ferrara said.

“The quality control, it’s pretty stringent,” Ferrara said.

LAEL’s rubber recycling process differs from most tire recyclers because the company doesn’t just grind tires. Rather, the different kinds of rubber are separated out and the other recyclable material — such as the wire inside the tire — is sold for scrap elsewhere.

Normally, the molecules in uncured rubber are somewhat unstable, while the molecules in cured rubber are almost locked in place, making it very hard to blend the two, Wells said.

“Basically, we take the cured rubber and do a chemical reactivation, and the customer takes their virgin rubber and blends them seamlessly,” Wells said.

In one instance, one of LAEL’s customers has a rubber product — the inside of a tire mold — that can only be used so many times before it loses its effectiveness.

After the LAEL rejuvenation, however, that rubber can be used again.

“They send it to us, and we ship it right back to them,” Ferrara said.

The LAEL process makes no emissions or effluents, and by the nature of its reusing old products is a green process, LAEL Chairman Ron Lane said.

Tests have also indicated that LAEL products have a longer life than some others, he said.

“Yes, they’re ‘green,’ but it’s a better material,” Lane said. “That it’s green is an added benefit, but what (customers) care about is their bottom line, and we don’t have to pay people to go out and tap trees all day.”

Having a rubber factory in Vidalia could eventually attract a tire company working with the new automobile plant in Monroe to Louisiana, Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said.

“It will be cheaper for them to be located near that plant,” he said.

The LAEL plant is currently running on limited operations, but Ferrara said it will hopefully be running at full capacity in approximately 90 days.

Construction on the $10 million facility began in July 2007, and the factory began limited operations in March.

The company currently has approximately 30 employees, and applications for employment can be completed at the Louisiana Works office in Ferriday.

Louisiana Works can be accessed online at