Evergreen Nylon Recycling LLC, an award-winning repolymerization plant in Augusta, Ga., announced Aug. 30 that it is suspending operations indefinitely.
The company mainly blamed economic conditions, production costs and technical issues for the shutdown. The joint venture is owned by nylon 6 suppliers Honeywell International Inc. and DSM Chemicals North America Inc.
The 40,000-square-foot plant extracted caprolactam from post-consumer nylon 6 carpet collected throughout the United States.
``When the plant was first launched, the marketplace at the time was a little different than it is today,'' said Rob Norman, a spokesman for Honeywell's Nylon System Division in Richmond, Va. ``Right now there is an oversupply of caprolactam, and that certainly doesn't help.
``The demand for a lot of the products - particularly carpet - is very soft right now, primarily because of that overcapacity.''
Norman said the $100 million plant has been operating at 60 percent of its 90 million-pound-per-year annual capacity.
Evergreen won recognition from the Society of Plastics Engineers' Recycling Division in November.
Honeywell and DSM used caprolactam from the Augusta plant to make nylon 6 resin, which they could market as post-consumer material. One customer was Ford Motor Co., which used the resin in throttle bodies of its 2001-model vans, trucks and sport utility vehicles. Ford officials were not available for comment.
Norman said the plant experienced technical problems with a system for feeding post-consumer carpet into the processing area. That caused the plant to operate ``at a level that makes it inefficient,'' which led to higher operating costs.
During the suspension period, Evergreen will look for ways to make the plant profitable, including any necessary capital improvements.
``Over the next several weeks we will be going through a mothballing stage - deactivating equipment, moving process material and putting equipment in a safe and secure position ready for an essential restart,'' Norman said during an Aug. 30 telephone interview. ``Right now, we're suspending production and conducting an assessment to look at it economically and technically.''
The plant employs about 90. Norman said no layoffs have been announced.
Bruce Cundiff, automotive director at the American Plastics Council's Automotive Learning Center in Troy, Mich., was not aware of Evergreen's decision to shutter operations. But looking at the economic barriers to other efforts to recycle nylon, he said he was not surprised.
Not too long ago, DuPont announced plans to launch a pilot facility to chemically recycle nylon 6/6 for automotive applications in Maitland, Ontario.
That $15 million endeavor to date has yet to secure adequate support from the industry for its chemical separation process.
``[The closing is] not totally surprising because I know DuPont's process for recycling nylon has gone up and down, and it's been because of the basic economics,'' Cundiff said. ``The economics of that depend upon the price of oil ... and in the case of [nylon 6], caprolactam.
``A lot of times, it costs more to run those processes than to buy the intermediate [caprolactam] on the open market.''
To Evergreen's credit, Norman said, the company succeeded in key areas where others had yet to break through: establishing an efficient carpet-collection system and selling the idea to nylon customers.
``Since this was really the first kind of facility of this nature that took in nylon 6 carpet and recycled it, trying to tell that story to people was initially a challenge,'' he said. ``One of the biggest challenges we overcame was putting together the whole collection infrastructure. That collection network has done a tremendous job of supplying post-consumer nylon carpet and post-industrial waste to feed into the Evergreen facility.
``The carpet that was supplied is a success story in itself.''
Norman said the owners want to make the plant more efficient and economically viable.
``We're not giving up on this. The facility remains an important environmental opportunity,'' he said. ``It's unfortunate that current circumstances have led to this suspension, but both DSM and Honeywell are committed to the recycling of nylon as an important part of their responsible-care strategy.''
DSM is a subsidiary of Heerlen, Netherlands-based DSM NV. Honeywell is based in Morristown, N.J.