Circular economies

From the September 2019 issue.

Turning tyres into useable oil and gas is an impressive feat for Tire2Oil. This production process is set to transform sustainability practices for the commercial road transport industry worldwide.

Danish entrepreneur, Lars Boysen, is working to recycle tyres into various usable end products. The main method is a pyrolysis process. Danish fleet owner, DSV, is a ‘happy’ customer for the new company (see breakout box), but Boysen considers a totally new way of dealing with residual products.

Pyrolisis means ‘to disassemble with fire’ and is also known as dry distillation – organic material is being extracted. Examples of pyrolysis include the production of charcoal and wood gassification. Tyres mostly constitute oil, steel and carbon powder.
The factory in the Danish town of Egebjerg recently produced its first litre of useable oil. Like their plan, the Danes succeeded in recycling the first batch of car and trailer tyres. From worn-out tyres, synthetic gas was harvested which can be used in turbines or generators to keep a village the size of Egebjerg warm during winter.

A more sustainable perspective
The perspective of tyres being recycled into reusable materials is gigantic.

“By the end of the year we will be processing around 50 tonnes of tyres per day, but this is nothing compared to the potential that these technologies have,” Boysen says – adding that annually 13 million tyres are written off and only 3.4 million tyres are being reused. “Of all the worn-out tyres the destination of 40 per cent of them is unknown. Most of the time they are being processed into granulate, but a significant part is being exported again.”

According to Boysen, there is growing demand for products that originate from the pyrolysis process with worn-out trailer tyres.
“Like for instance carbon powder is facing growing demand in Europe,” he says. “It is being used in several end-products. Actually, we don’t yet even know all possible applications.”

There is also serious demand for carbon powder in China and India, a semi-finished product widely used in various production processes.

“The same can be said of the oil that we extract from the tyres,” Boysen says. “The oil can be used in producing paint, or redistillate to produce chemicals like acetone. It can be used as a fuel for ships and as a cleaning material in tanks of any kind. It can be used as a diesel fuel, but this time, we’re talking about a renewable fuel.”

He expects that the oil generated from old tyres can also replace palm-oil.

Pushing for a circular economy
The European tyre industry has seen the rise of Tire2Oil. According to Boysen, a modern tyre manufacturer has to invest four million euros to make their current production process circular.

“For giant manufacturers like the well-known tyre brands, that’s little more than nothing,” he says, comparing Tire2Oil to a little seed. “You can stand on the seed, and it’s gone, certainly its potential. Or you let it grow and see what advantages can be gained form it for you and for your company.”

Boysen mentions the price of carbon powder currently is about 1,200-1,500 euros per tonne. If recycled, it costs about half that price. “Carbon powder is worth more than the oil we generate.”

All recycled products can be used again in producing new tyres, but there are many rules to consider when re-using materials in tyres.

“Before you’re allowed to sell tyres which contain recycled carbon powder, they must be tested in practice during seven years,” Boysen says. “The steel that comes from old tyres may be made ready for reuse, but again, this has also got to be tested. Lawmakers play a key-role in realising processes that bring change. Even for carbon powder, certificates of recognition appear to be necessary.”

Boysen is convinced that this all going to work. “At a certain moment, paper recycling was something new,” he says. “I remember my dad being most doubtful about this development. Reading a newspaper made out of recycled paper? Nowadays, this is very common. But it’s a process that takes time.”

Small plants
According to Boysen, Denmark has some 29 plants where waste is being processed.

“In ten years, they will all be gone,” he says, predicting that waste streams will be dealt with locally instead of on a bigger scale, which is the case now. “It is not sustainable when you drag your waste to all corners of the planet in order to get it recycled, which is very much the case now. I expect this to end. During the pyrolysis process we generate gas which can be used to warm our village here, in Egebjerg.”

Boysen expects this to become the trend. Remanufacturing waste is going to be a local business. “It saves us many transportation costs of semi-finished products. This is also a reason why eventually, I expect the traditional tyre industry to invest in a process like ours.”

All kinds of tyres
The plant in Egebjerg can process all kinds of tyres. All equipment for it is made in Denmark. The process takes place in a compact production line. During our visit, we saw a number of trailer tyres from several manufacturers, for instance of Krone and of GiTi. The tyres are broken down to very small pieces after which they are heated without oxygen to very high temperatures.

The resources of which the tyres consist, stay in shape.  During several production stages, the gases, the oil and the carbon powder are being separated.

The plant in Egebjerg now has one production line, which can handle 15,000 tonnes of tyres annually, or two million tyres. This generates 6,300 tonnes of oil, 5,700 tons of carbon powder, 2,250 tonnes of steel and 750 tonnes of gas.

An international outlook
Boysen and his team are not the only ones involved in the business of tyre recycling. The intention is to triple production in Egebjerg.

“We still have sufficient space to realise this at this location,” he says. “Getting the tyres over here is no problem either.”

Other countries which take to this method of recycling are China and Colombia.  In Europe, there is interest for the Danish model, most obviously from Spain, where a similar production line is being established.

Companies in Turkey are working with the same process as well, according to Boysen. “It is clear, that this is a disruptive industry. But we have to conclude that the seed I was referring to, has started to grow into an alternative way of production of which no one can deny that it is very sustainable.  Should a tyre manufacturer look closely at the investment and the expected returns when investing in this recycling method, he will conclude that it takes only two years two earn back his investment. If you compare this to the traditional system, where you have to work with much larger amounts to invest in processes, and where it takes some twenty years to earn it back, than this is a quite a promising technology.”

DSV on Tire2Oil
Søren Lund is the Fleet Manager at DSV, managing a fleet of approx. 10,000 trailers. His challenge is to reduce tyre costs as much as possible. This inspired him a few years ago to start importing Ultra Seal, a sealant from the US that proved successful in the trailer fleet at DSV.

“Before Ultra Seal we changed 14.000 tyres a year, now it is only 8,000 on a bit more trailers,” Lund explains.

At present, Lund orders his trailers on Westlake tyres which perform as premium tyres, but with a lower purchase price, he says. Lund is a true advocate of both Ultra Seal and Tire2Oil: “Ultra-seal is not harming the environment, and can as a liquid, be flushed directly into the drain. It has no negative effect if the tyres are scrapped by granulating, pyrolysis or burning. T2O has a general license to collect and scrap tyres, and I expect them to be used by many more fleet owners. Denmark is slightly different than other countries as a scrapping fee is paid by the distributor when the tyres are sold. This money goes back into collecting and scrapping the tyres. Pyrolysis is more environmentally friendly than any other scrapping method because there’s no emission or waste, so I think it will have a great future worldwide.”

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