Microwave Ready Tyres
New Jersey based Global Resource Corp. (GRC) claims to have developed a patent pending process that allows for the low cost acquisition of alternative petroleum products from various resources. According to the company, the process uses specific frequencies of microwave radiation to extract oils and alternative petroleum products from secondary raw materials. As part of its broader resource acquisition technology program GRC has revealed, through filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, that it intends to build a US$70 million tyre-recycling plant at the site of a former steel works in the state of Pennsylvania.
The facility will take approximately a year to build once official clearance has been granted for work to commence, and when operational will employ around 250 people and be able to process approximately 16,000 kilograms of tyres per hour, according to GRC head engineer Hawk Hogan. The plant will employ the company’s microwave process in a vacuum environment, using what they call ‘molecular vibrations’ to ‘crack’ the hydrocarbon chain and breaking tyres down into their base material components.
The site of the proposed facility, now known as the Keystone Industrial Port Complex, is owned by USX, who still employ about 100 people there. A number of other companies are also planning to establish energy-related ventures on the premises, including a solar equipment manufacturing facility operated by A.E. Polysilicon Corp. and Spanish company Gamesa Corporación Tecnológica S.A. who last year announced plans to build wind turbines at the site. The go-ahead for the GRC deal, however, depends upon final approval by both USX and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Mr. Hogan has been quoted as saying that the project’s main hold-up is linked to obtaining a lease from USX, a process he has referred to as an “uphill battle.”
The GRC process involves chipping a tyre down into 3 to 4-inch chunks which are then washed in a solution that removes dirt and road oil. After being dried the clean tyre chunks are fed into the facility’s microwave reactor, and once a full load is inside the unit draws a vacuum and begins the process. The oil and gas is siphoned out of the chamber, leaving a residue of steel and carbon black, which is then cooled and separated.
One of the stated merits of the GRC process is that it produces zero atmospheric emissions due to it being carried out in a vacuum environment. From an average passenger car tyre weighing 9 kilograms, GRC claims to be able to obtain 4.5 litres of oil, 900 grams of both gas and steel, and 3.5 kilograms of carbon black. By these figures, if the proposed 12,500 square metre facility was operating at full capacity it could in the course of an eight-hour shift extract 64,000 litres of oil, 12.8 tonnes of gas and steel, and 50 tonnes of carbon black.
It must be pointed out that the oil produced is in fact an oil-like hydrocarbon liquid. The exact composition of the oil is not known but it has been tested to have a BTU content comparable to that of diesel fuel, therefore GRC believes there is a ready market for it. The collected carbon black is a composite of about four to six grades, the result of the different grades used during the original tyre manufacturing process.
While on paper it seems that the proposed GRC facility is a potential resources gold mine, a couple of question marks have been raised as to whether the Pennsylvania plant will deliver as promised. A Securities Exchange Commission report dated September 22, 2006 states the following: “While the use of targeted microwave frequencies is not new technology, as such, the determination of the frequencies to be used and the implementation of that technology is. The process is still in a laboratory mode and size. While the Company believes that its design of the proposed tyre disposal facility will be a successful commercial implementation of the process developed in the laboratory, there can be no assurance of that.” An even darker picture has been painted by the Rubber Manufacturers Association senior technical director, Michael Blumenthal, whose comments on the company’s claims were somewhat less than positive. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s not new. It’s not revolutionary,” he said. “We have very serious doubts about whether this type of technology can be economically viable.”
With GRC posting a loss of $4 million during 2006 and the company heavily reliant on external funding to finance the project, it is clear that a lot rides on both the acquisition of the necessary leases and permissions to go ahead with the project and the successful application of the technology on a commercial scale. Should the facility yield the anticipated financial dividend GRC intend to seek and licence third party operators to run similar facilities in other locations.