Fabricators of tire-derived fuel can look forward to steady growth over the next few years, particularly in the electric utilities and cement kiln markets, TDF makers and experts agree. Currently, about 100 business facilities use TDF as a supplemental alternative to coal and other fuels, according to Michael Blumenthal, executive director of the Scrap Tire Management Council. This includes nearly 40 cement kilns, nearly 30 power plants and more than 20 pulp/paper factories.
These markets consumed about 120 million tires in 1995, and this number is likely to increase appreciably in 1997, he said.
Strong competition reigns in the TDF market, with processors rising and falling rapidly.
``The number of actual TDF facilities will not expand as fast it has in the past,'' Mr. Blumenthal said. ``We've got most of the readily available markets already. Also, in cases where one TDF facility is near others, there may not be enough tires in the area to supply them all.''
``We've been in business going on 15 years,'' added Thomas L. Earnshaw, president and CEO of Waste Recovery Inc., the Dallas-based giant of the TDF industry. ``We've seen a lot of guys come and a lot of guys go.''
But Mr. Earnshaw expects the market to keep growing, and WRI to grow with it. ``All industry sectors will grow, but utilities will be the biggest,'' he said.
Hazel Blankenship, owner of T.Y.R.E.S. Inc., Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is equally bullish. ``We're very optimistic that within the next year or so most of the scrap tires being generated will be consumed,'' she said. ``Crumb rubber and other applications will have their place, but TDF is the biggest market by far, and will continue to be.''
Unlike Mr. Earnshaw, Ms. Blankenship sees the cement industry as the growth leader in TDF. Commitment to scrap tire fuel, however, varies from site to site—sometimes even within the same company.
``There are a couple of plantsthat should be burning TDF, but aren't,'' she said. ``You have to have a plant manager who's committed to TDF. The president and vice president can be committed, but if the plant manager isn't, it's not going to happen.''
A good example of this, according to Ms. Blankenship, is at Cal-Portland Cement, which has facilities in Mojave and Colton, Calif. The plant manager at Mojave, she said, is ``not a big believer'' in TDF, while the one in Colton is ``really on board,'' using up to 2 million tires per year.
Both WRI and T.Y.R.E.S. are expansion-minded these days.
WRI acquired U.S. Tire Recycling Partners L.P., a major scrap tire collector and processor based in Concord, N.C.
``We anticipate further expansions, but we can't say when,'' Mr. Earnshaw said.
T.Y.R.E.S., meanwhile, is exploring an association with a major waste control company, according to Ms. Blankenship. ``We had an offer from BFI (Browning-Ferris Industries) last year, but that fell through,'' she said.
California TDF producers have an advantage in the state's low tipping fees, which ensures a steady supply of scrap tires from out of state, according to Ms. Blankenship. ``Tires are coming in from Utah and Arizona to supply our markets,'' she said.
T.Y.R.E.S. has an extra competitive advantage, she added, in that it services landfills as well as making TDF. ``When tire supply exceeds demand, we can landfill,'' she said.
WRI's advantage, according to Mr. Earnshaw, lies in its unique nationwide structure—it has seven facilities across the U.S.—and it has a proprietary technology for TDF processing.
``Our technology allows us to produce a consistent quality fuel," he said. "As people begin to use TDF, they require a consistent product."
TDF has faced, and still faces, opposition in localities where the product is equated with the catastrophe of out-of-control tire fires. But the fuel has proven its safety and cleanliness whereever it is used properly, experts agree.
"Whether TDF can be used at a facility is a site-specific issue," Mr. Earnshaw said. Environmental and engineering factors vary from site to site, and every state has a slightly different permitting procedure, he noted.
"In every locality, you have to go through a testing phase and prove you can use TDF in that boiler," he said. "Those that can use it are operating safely."
Studies show that, in general, TDF burns just as cleanly as any other fuel. Under the right circumstances, it caneven lower emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, Ms. Blankenship noted. "The public is coming around to accepting that fact, but it's something of a battle," she said. "It's really just a matter of education."
The environmental effects of TDF often depend on comparison with the kinds of fuel-such as high-sulfur vs. low-sulfur coal-that traditionally are burned in a region, according to Mr. Blumenthal.
"When Ohio Edison started using TDF in place of Ohio coal, its emissions dropped 30 percent," he said. "Ohio coal has a very high sulfur content-5 or 6 percent-whereas TDF's sulfur content is steady at 1.2 or 1.3 percent.
"On the other hand, the Tennessee Valley Authority uses coal from the West, which has a sulfur content of only one-half of 1 percent. But the TVA uses TDF as only about 2 percent of its fuel supply, so the sulfur increase is distributed out."
Last year, Mr. Blumenthal reported complaints of TDF increasing the zinc content in the slag or bottom ash which is sliced out of pulp/paper mills. But this occurs only under very limited circumstances, he added.
"The zinc problem occurs only in pulp/paper mills which have a wet scrubber," he said. "In mills with dry scrubb