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The Public Works Department (JKR) and the Malaysian Rubber Board yesterday signed a Memorandum of Agreement to undertake joint research in the use of the frozen rubber “cup lumps” as an additional material in asphalt, Bernama reports.

It is good news for the rubber industry as the use of frozen rubber cup lumps in the construction of Malaysian roads is expected to boost domestic demand for rubber by 10% annually. Malaysia produces 700,000 metric tonnes of rubber every year. Cup lumps are obtained directly from rubber trees without going through any manufacturing process.

Minister of Plantation, Industries and Commodities Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said the move to increase domestic usage is among efforts to stabilise rubber prices and reduce the impact on about 300,000 smallholders in Malaysia.

“The uncertainty in the global rubber market is the main challenge faced by this industry. Rubber prices on the global market is influenced by a number of factors, including demand and supply, as well as the economic growth of key importing countries,” he explained.

Rubberised roads are costlier than regular tarmac, but have a longer lifespan

Uggah added that although the research might take time, maybe up to 2018, he hoped it could be implemented as early as next year. The minister has been pushing for rubberised roads for some time – a report from last October said that Malaysia is preparing to build its first rubberised roads in June 2015.

This move recalls the recent government push for B10 biodiesel (10% palm-based biodiesel and 90% petroleum diesel, we’re currently using B7) to assist the palm oil industry. That unilateral move has been met with resistance from the car industry, with diesel players like Toyota, Isuzu and BMW saying that B10 will cause engine damage.

This move appears to at least bring some benefits to those outside the rubber industry. Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said rubber had previously been used in the construction of roads and rubberised roads had proven to have a longer lifespan compared to normal tarmac.

Thailand has also conducted trials with up to 3.3 tonnes of natural rubber per km for the construction of the rubberised roads. Results have indicated that although initial costs are higher, long-term maintenance is lower compared to the tarmac equivalent. And most would agree that poorly maintained roads are an issue for us in Malaysia.