01 Mar 2016
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Reinventing the Wheel

Martijn Lopes Cardozo is turning old tires into new business
Re: Izet Fraanje (MBA 2000); Scott Newnam (MBA 2000)
by Maureen Harmon

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(courtesy Martijn Lopes Cardozo)

Carbon black is everywhere. The dark, powdery substance can be found in inks, dyes, polymers, rubber, and tires—almost everything that looks black has used carbon black in its production, says Martijn Lopes Cardozo (MBA 2000), CEO of Netherlands-based Black Bear Carbon.

Tires, in particular, are a gold mine. But with every tire change, that potential carbon black—4.5 million tons annually, worth 4.5 billion euros—typically heads to landfills (or worse, up in smoke). “It’s like throwing out the old wallet with the money still in it,” says Cardozo.

One of Cardozo’s early entrepreneurial stops: LA–based GoldPocket Interactive, founded by girlfriend (now wife) Izet Fraanje and Scott Newnam (both MBA 2000), and acquired by Tandberg Television in 2005.

That’s the founding principle of Black Bear: bringing tires into “the world of the circular economy” by extracting carbon black from discarded models to create new ones. Cardozo first heard about the idea in 2013 while serving as an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Dutch incubator YES!Delft. The idea of chipping away at the mountains of old tires without emitting loads of CO2 and other toxic chemicals into the air or clogging landfills appealed to Cardozo. He’d worked extensively in startups and spent some time in the corporate world, but now he wanted more than commercial success—he wanted to lead a company that had what he calls a “strong sustainability story.” In need of a veteran entrepreneur, the scientists and researchers in the young company asked Cardozo if he would like to join the team as CEO in early 2014.

The process works like this: End-of-life tires are collected at the Black Bear plant, where their steel wiring is removed. They are then heated without oxygen allowing the rubber to evaporate, leaving behind carbon black, which can then be “pelletized” (think instant coffee) and used to create everything from new tires to paint. And there’s a bonus to all of this. The process also produces a gas that can be used to generate electricity, creating a self-sufficient plant that has the potential to provide energy to the local community.

Since its founding in 2010, Black Bear has grown from 3 employees to 15 and has plans to open a second plant this year. There are enough tires in the world to build more than 800 production lines, and Cardozo has bold ambitions: “After we have successfully demonstrated our first installation, we want to rapidly scale-up internationally,” he says. Creating more localized production facilities would also be more efficient. Ironically, he says, tires are quite hard to transport.

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Class of MBA 2000, Section I
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