Controversy over tire-derived fuel (TDF), triumphs and snafus in state scrap tire programs, the re-appearance of pyrolysis and the resurgence of a major market player all made news in rubber recycling in 2004.
A total of 129.7 million tires were used as TDF in 2003, making it the largest market for scrap tires, according to figures from the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA). Nevertheless, environmentalists mostly remain opposed to burning tires as fuel, expressing doubts about the environmental safety of the practice and its economic wisdom compared with the manufacture of durable, value-added products.
Ontario remains a glaring exception among Canadian provinces in that it lacks an operating scrap tire abatement program. Nevertheless, when Ontario Tire Stewardship, an organization consisting of tire industry stakeholders, presented a scrap tire plan to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment earlier this year, the Toronto Environmental Alliance vowed to oppose it. The reason: The plan contained provisions for giving grants from its scrap tire fund to users of TDF.
Supporters of the Ontario Tire Stewardship plan countered that long-stockpiled tires can only be used for TDF and that the proposal places greater emphasis on value-added scrap tire uses. The Ministry is still considering the Ontario Tire Stewardship report and is expected to issue its own program proposal soon.
Similarly, a group called Southeastern Minnesotans for Environmental Protection went to court to block the plans of Heartland Energy and Recycling L.L.C. to build a dedicated tires-to-energy plant in Pres-ton, Minn.
Currently the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is considering more than 700 public comments regarding the Heartland project and hopes to make recommendations to its Citizens Board in time for its Jan. 24-25, 2005, meeting, an agency spokeswoman said in December.
In Missouri, there was consternation over the Jan. 1, 2004, lapse of the 50-cent scrap tire fee the state had levied on each new tire since 1990. Ten different bills were introduced in the Missouri General Assembly to reinstate the fee, but none of them had passed when the legislative body adjourned for the year on May 14. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources said the fee had paid for the cleanup of some 12 million tires in Missouri, but some 2.5 million scrap tires remain that the state won't be able to get to.
On the other hand, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it had overseen the cleanup of 30 million scrap tires within its borders since 1990. The agency also was taking steps to remove the largest remaining tire pile in the state-buried residual material, equivalent to 5 million to 7 million scrap tires, at the Kirby's Tire Recycling site near Sycamore, Ohio-by 2010.
The long-standing problem of more than 10 million scrap tires along the U.S.-Mexico border may move toward a solution soon if talks between the U.S. EPA and Mexican environmental officials pan out.
EPA and Mexican officials met in Ciudad Juarez in September to discuss plans to establish a scrap tire management policy along the border. Also, the city executive of Ciudad Juarez reached agreement with Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua for the cement company to use 800,000 scrap tires per year for the next five years as fuel in its kilns. The tires will come from the border city's collection center.
The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) gave its OK to Ash Grove Cement Co. to do a test burn of scrap tires at its Louisville, Neb., cement plant. But it revoked the operating permit of Central States Tire Recycling for installing its Enviro-Block bales of compressed scrap tires in a vacant lot for a client without first applying for an NDEQ permit. Central States is now disposing of its inventory after losing an appeal before the Nebraska Supreme Court, said John D. Feller, the company's lawyer.
While the bulk of industry opinion remains negative regarding pyrolysis-the process of breaking down scrap tires into their component oil, carbon black, gas and scrap steel through the use of high heat-several companies claim to have pyrolysis processes that can be made commercially successful.
Integrated Resource Recovery L.L.C. started testing its pyrolysis system at a landfill in Elmore County, Idaho, in an effort to persuade the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality that its system is environmentally safe and commercially viable.
Norman, Okla.-based Federal Recycling Technologies Inc. lined up principals to establish a pyrolysis facility in Ponca City, Okla., and sought partners for similar plants in up to 25 more cities.
Finally, Medford, N.J.-based Carbon Recovery Corp. said it planned to establish a pilot plant for its ``reverse polymerization'' process-involving the breakdown of tires in a vacuum chamber under low heat-by spring 2005.
Things started looking up in 2004 for GreenMan Technologies Inc., one of the most expansion-minded of U.S. tire recycling companies.
Lynnfield, Mass.-based GreenMan was brought up short in 2003 by two disasters: a fire that closed waste wire processing operations at its Jackson, Ga., facility, and the collapse of its primary lender, Coast Business Credit.
However, the company found a new lender, Laurus Master Fund Ltd., in June and in November reopened the Jackson wire operations after a $1 million renovation.
GreenMan still reported losses of $336,000 on sales of $8.1 million in its fiscal third quarter, but this was a substantial improvement over the $971,000 loss on sales of $7.2 million in the third quarter of the previous fiscal year.
GreenMan said plans were on track to complete the company's biggest outstanding project-the conversion of its LaVergne, Tenn., plant to a full-service crumb rubber processing facility by early 2005.