Second life for discarded car tyres
Discarded car tyres make up one of the largest and most problematic waste streams. Dutch company Black Bear Carbon has developed a technology that allows it to recycle used car tyres in a clean and sustainable way. In addition, this technology will also generate energy.
Black Bear Carbon’s technology is an alternative to the current extremely energy-intensive and polluting method used to produce carbon black. In the current process, carbon black is produced by the incomplete combustion of oil. Black Bear Carbon wants to recover this material from used car tyres for reuse. These tyres are largely made up of carbon black, which accounts for an average of 20% - 25% of their total volume.
'Our sustainable method essentially involves the carbonisation of rubber', says Pieter ter Kuile of Black Bear Carbon. 'We apply heat in the absence of oxygen (a process known as pyrolysis) to break down the rubber, producing oil, gas and char. Char (carbonised rubber) is rich in carbon black. We upgrade it to high-grade carbon black for use in various industrial applications. The pyrolysis gas generated is partially condensed into oil and partly converted into electricity in a cogeneration plant. Some of this electricity can be used locally, by the production line, and some can be supplied to the grid. We can also use the oil for power generation.'
The project directly contributes to the transition to a resource efficient circular economy. It turns waste product (used car tyres) into valuable raw material (carbon black) and energy. The production process reduces CO2 emissions by 4.8 tonnes for every tonne of carbon black produced.
The process generates more energy than it consumes, which provides additional energy savings. Mr. ter Kuile says, 'We are using our technology to make the production of carbon black more sustainable using a high-quality approach. We can use this type of recycling to create a circular economy for tyres.'
14,000 tonnes of car tyres
A commercial production plant on an industrial scale, will enable the technical and economic potential of Black Bear Carbon’s technology to be tested and further developed. Pieter ter Kuile, 'Together with our partner, the Kargro car tyre company, we are currently building a plant in Nederweert. There, hopefully, some 14,000 tonnes of car tyres will be processed each year, starting in mid-2016. From this, we can produce 4,500 tonnes of carbon black.'
The demonstration project received support from the Energy Innovation Demonstration programme (DEI). Mr. ter Kuile says, 'The DEI programme was crucial to us. Not only financially, but also in terms of recognition. The government support for our project helped us obtain a loan from the bank.'
The Dutch government has pledged to attain a 100% circular economy by 2050. In just over one generation, the world will be inhabited by nine billion people. This will inevitably put pressure on resources. Societies have to step up their game and switch to sustainable sources in order to feed, clothe and shelter their growing populations. In order to leave behind a liveable earth, this generation has to learn how to use its scarce raw materials more effectively and more intelligently. Closing the loop in production processes is all about creating a future-proof world.