TUSTIN, Calif.-A California company is building a pilot plant in Anaheim, Calif., to test tire recycling technology it hopes will expand markets for recycled oil and carbon from tires.
Built by Advanced Recycling Sciences Inc.'s subsidiary Tires2Oil Inc., the facility is slated for completion by the first half of 2002 and will cost about $1 million, the company said.
Tires2Oil will use a patented Super Critical Fluid technology at the plant to convert tires into gas and oil pure enough to be sold directly to power generation plants and activated carbon pure and fine enough to be used for air and water purification, Project Manager Sudheer Helekar said.
``We believe we are going to end up with products that are really useful,'' he said. ``You could put the oil directly into a gas turbine and produce power. It's possible you could put it in a car. It's possible, but we need to prove it.''
The technology originally was developed and tested at the University of South Alabama, Advanced Recycling said.
The problem with many tire recycling technologies is that they only separate a tire into its physical components-vulcanized rubber, steel and fabric, Mr. Helekar said.
Other more advanced technologies-such as pyrolysis-melt the tire and separate out oil and carbon black, but leave additives in the oil and carbon, limiting their commercial uses, he said.
The sulfur content in the oil, for instance, requires expensive refinement to achieve the purity required for power generation and is too dirty to burn without refinement, Mr. Helekar said.
``There are probably 20 companies in the world who claim to have a pyrolysis process,'' he said. ``To me, the bottom line comes down to the fact that the fuel that's created has a high sulfur content.''
Tires2Oil's Super Critical Fluid technology separates sulfur, zinc, silicone and other by-products from the oil and carbon black, Mr. Helekar said.
``We believe that we have a process that is not just heating and melting, but a chemical reaction process that depolymerizes the tire,'' he said. ``In our process, the sulfur separates from the oil and carbon. There is no waste stream from the process, and all the by-products are usable by industry.''
The Super Critical Fluid process also makes significantly more oil per ton of scrap tires than competing technologies, Advanced Recycling said.
Mr. Helekar said the plant will subject scrap tires to three processes: shredding and rough grinding to remove steel and fabric from the rubber; the Super Critical Fluid process, which will separate ground rubber into gas, oil, carbon and other by-products; and three purification stages that will ensure the commercial viability of the extracted materials.
Crumbed rubber could be removed after the first stage to supply crumb rubber applications, such as crumb rubber-modified asphalt paving, Mr. Helekar said.
The purpose of building the pilot plant is to prove Super Critical Fluid technology works, said Keith Fryer, president and chief operating officer of Advanced Recycling.
``We see the potential for this system as gigantic if it works,'' he said. ``We're very excited for sure and anxious to get this done and get some good hard data.''
A full-scale production plant based on Super Critical Fluid technology would recycle 3.2 million tires annually and employ about 50, Mr. Helekar said. It would cost about $15 million to build, he said.
Advanced Recycling is relatively new to recycling tires. For a decade, the company was known as The Quantum Group Inc., and focused solely on selling equipment, Mr. Fryer said. Since March 2001, it has been Advanced Recycling, reflecting a new focus, he said.
``Historically, we've been involved in equipment sales exclusively, and now we're planning to vertically integrate,'' he said.
In addition to Tires2Oil, the firm runs other companies related to the tire-recycling market:
Advanced Surfacing Technologies Inc., focused on crumb rubber-modified asphalt paving and technology transfer, and the development and marketing of a patented de-icing technology for crumb rubber-modified asphalt; and
Poseidon Products G.m.b.H., a German subsidiary building a plant for tire and industrial rubber recycling and product manufacturing.
Another planned business, Bay Area Recycling Inc., would be a 50/50 joint venture between Advanced Recycling and Shen Gang Development Ltd. Bay Area Recycling would produce crumb rubber for the burgeoning crumb rubber-modified asphalt paving market in California, Advanced Recycling said.
Despite slow going in the early stages, publicly held Advanced Recycling is optimistic about its chances to make scrap tire recycling profitable, Mr. Fryer said.
Although only five states-Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico and Texas-have tested crumb rubber-modified asphalt to the point that they regularly specify it, Advanced Recycling forecasts that 34 states will specify the asphalt in the next five years.
``I think the overall crumb market in the states is potentially huge,'' Mr. Fryer said. ``From the industry standpoint, we see many more states specifying these products.''
The company also is hopeful that the oil it extracts from tires will be viable for many commercial applications, he said.
``We think we're going to have a very clean product at the end of the day, which is a fundamental part of this system,'' Mr. Fryer said.
In addition to scrap tire recycling and its de-icing technology, Advanced Recycling markets rubber crumbing systems, recycled rubber fabrication equipment and crumb rubber-modified asphalt mixing equipment. Advanced Recycling generated a loss of $2.01 million in the year ended Dec. 31, compared to a $2.64 million loss for fiscal 1999, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company attributed the improvement to reductions in general and administrative expenses.
In the past, most of its revenues have come from equipment sales, but the firm hopes to hike sales in the future by generating commercially viable products and licensing technology, according to its financial statements.