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State of recycling industry

State of recycling industry

By TA News Bureau

Robert Weibold is the founder and head of the Vienna-based consulting company Weibold that is focused exclusively on scrap tyre recycling and pyrolysis. He helps companies successfully build and upgrade tyre recycling and pyrolysis businesses. Since its founding in 1999, his company has gathered an international team of experts and established a large professional network of researchers, decision-makers and authorities. Today, Robert Weibold and his team maintain liaison with industry players, including world’s leading innovators. This enables his company to receive first-hand information about markets, new products and innovative technologies in the field of tyre recycling. In this interview to Tyre Asia, Weibold – who has a comprehensive monthly newsletter – speaks of the current trends in the tyre recycling industry

Globally the problem of environment-friendly disposal of end-of-life tyres is getting acute. From your perspective, how big is the problem and how to tackle it in a sustainable way?

It is important to understand why disposal and accumulation of ELT is a serious problem in today’s world. When tyres reach their end-of-life phase, they are either sent to recycling facilities or stockpiled, depending on local regulations. If the latter happens more frequently, there is risk that ELTs not only occupy more and more stockpile space, but that the they pose threat to environment and human health. Two most dangerous threats are tyre fires (burning tyres cannot be easily extinguished and release huge amounts of hazardous toxic substances into the air) and the fact that ELTs serve as ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes which easily spread diseases like Zika or West Nile Virus. As an example of the former, five million tyres burned accidently in Kuwait in April 2012 and recently in 2016, another 5 million tyres burned in Spain heavily polluting adjacent residential areas.
On the other hand, tyres are composed of precious high-priced materials which, thanks to tyre recycling, are now available in abundance back on the market. Tyre recycling enables recovery of the bulk of precious rubber and utilize it in numerous consumer goods and industrial applications. Thus, tyre recycling helps close the loop of circular economy, create new value, new jobs and clean environment.
A major problem here is that tyre collection and tyre recycling programmes are much better established in the developed economies rather than all around the world. According to the European Tyre and Rubber Manufacturing Association (ETRMA), the global tyre output is estimated at over 1.5 billion units per year – and not all of these tyres are recycled in the developing countries. To address the problem, governments around the world need to take decisive actions to launch and efficiently supervise tyre collection programmes and give incentives to tyre recycling companies. Successful examples include very differently organized programmes: the bulk of them use small tyre fees levied on the public to fund collection and support activities of tyre collection and recycling companies.
Another and complementary way of tackling the problem in the sustainable manner is the further market development for tyre-derived rubber products: besides R&D activities, industries should devote more attention to recycled rubber content in their products. This regards particularly to tyre and rubber compounding industries.
Among many applications of recycled tyre rubber, there are several major groups:
1. Tyre-derived fuel (TDF) – fuel for cement producers. Estimates show that OECD countries utilize, on average, 50 per cent of annually accumulated ELTs as a tyre-derived fuel, mostly in cement kilns and heating. When incinerated in proper environment-friendly way, tyres produce more energy than coal and result in lower CO2 emissions compared to fossil fuels;
2. Crumb rubber – vast use in civil engineering applications and construction industry.
According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), civil engineering applications for ELT-derived rubber consumed 17 million tires in 2015 in the US alone. This is because recycled tire rubber can replace virgin rubber materials in products like insulation blocks, drainage aggregate, playground mats, rubberized flooring, landscaping products, etc.
3. Rubber powder – thermoplastic elastomers and rubberized asphalt.
According to EPA in United States, over 62 million ELTs were transformed into rubber powder in the US alone in 2015. Fine rubber powder can be used in many high-end and high-value applications like thermoplastic elastomers – a steadily growing market. Another big market with a growing potential for fine rubber powder is road construction, namely rubberized asphalt. In different parts of the world, this field of industry is booming, as rubberized asphalt reduces highway maintenance costs and increases endurance of the surface.
4. Tyre pyrolysis fuel – fuels for stationary and vehicular engines, heating oil, maritime fuel. Pyrolysis oil is a promising substitute for conventional diesel, maritime fuel, heating oil, etc. However, strict environmental regulations pose challenges to the use of the product, and high-end purification technologies are required.
5. Recovered carbon black – high-quality substitute for virgin carbon blacks. Followed by recent breakthrough in the technology, high-quality recovered carbon black piqued attention of the automotive and the rubber industries. As a capital-intensive business with a lot of R&D involved, it is led by a handful of successful companies in Europe and the US.

While each of these fields has its own leaders in driving innovation and conducting R&D activities at their own expense, efforts to substitute recycled rubber, tyre pyrolysis oil and recovered carbon black for virgin materials must be supported by tyre and rubber industry majors, environmental organizations, universities and, most importantly, governments. This is a major prerequisite for success of the whole tyre recycling industry.

Recycling tyres and utilizing recycled rubber in industrial applications and consumer goods eventually creates jobs and stimulates economic growth. Therefore, governments should not be afraid of launching tyre collection programmes and investing in development of tyre recycling industry.

As a leading consultant in tyre recycling, can you tell what advances are happening in the processing technologies for tyre recycling?

As a technologically complex industry, tyre recycling follows all major advances in mechanical engineering and machine building. Leading tyre recycling equipment manufacturers do their best to increase the performance of their machinery and the quality of the output. Performance implies the very fundamental features such as efficiency, maintenance costs and longevity. However, there are other important parameters, too, and I will elaborate on some of them below.
Tyre recycling is a capital-intensive business, and equipment manufacturers stay on top of their game if their machinery has high throughput rates and low maintenance costs. The same applies to energy efficiency.
Engineers are working hard to come up with innovative cost-saving solutions. For instance, we see today that shaft diameter, particularly in primary and secondary shredders, tends to increase; this results in lower RPM and thus lower energy consumption.
Also, engineers are struggling to improve the situation with spare parts, making them quicker, accessible and increasing their performance. It is quite a widespread scenario that after investing in a plant, the operator tries to purchase cheaper spare parts from third parties. Even though the initial motivation is to cut costs, they end up with even bigger expenses, damaged equipment and hampered performance.
Despite the advances in energy efficiency and maintenance costs, prices for good-quality European or American equipment remain very high. Even though the market is saturated with all kinds of machinery, a closer look tells that tyre recycling equipment of Eastern manufacturers lacks long-term functionality, good performance and good quality. Companies opting for such kind of equipment eventually pay double the price: they suffer from excessive maintenance costs, long downtime, and eventually less output (not to mention its quality).
Another interesting example of advancing processing technologies comes from developing markets of recycled rubber products. As a rule, European and American equipment manufacturers are the first to follow these advances. For instance, cement industry which is on the transition path from coal to tyre-derived fuel requires clean cut of the product, which means that the wire does not jut out of rubber chips. As tyre-derived fuel has been gaining demand, it became an imperative for part of equipment manufacturers to adapt to the new output standard.
Health and safety features of processing equipment have been advancing, too. Improvements in safety regard not only to the recycling process, but also to maintenance work.
Some equipment manufacturers are focused today on flexibility in output sizes and material qualities. These equipment features enable tyre recycling companies to quickly react to changing customer demand without additional capital investments.
As for materials, there is a solid trend for smaller rubber powder sizes on the tyre recycling market today. While consumers are interested in minus 80 mesh size, there are some limitations from the technical point of view. With the ambient process, minus 40 mesh rubber powder can be produced with negligible fractions of minus 80 mesh powder. Cryogenic process, in turn, yields a bigger fraction of minus 80 mesh powder, but it involves high volumes of liquid nitrogen which adds considerable costs to the final product. Notwithstanding that, even cryogenic process does not yield 100% minus 80 mesh rubber powder. This is one of many other challenges for equipment manufacturers to tackle in the future.
There are also major challenges in tyre pyrolysis industry, namely the fuel purity. All over the world, sulfur content in fuels is limited to very low numbers, and this trend goes further than EU and the US. Following the most advanced international practices, India is going to limit sulfur content in its maritime fuel to 0.5% and in its gasoline to 0.1% in 2020. For companies that sell tyre pyrolysis oil to their clients, this would mean great challenges ahead. The industry is trying hard to develop economical solutions for increasing the quality of the fuel.

(To be continued)

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