Durable-goods recycler MBA Polymers Inc. continues to evolve as it looks to capitalize on its patented plastics separation technology.
``The only way to make a success is to think big,'' Michael Biddle, president and chief executive officer, said at Performance Compounding 2002, hosted April 11-12 in San Antonio by Applied Market Information LLC. ``Capacity at our plants will be 100 million pounds a year. That's the only way to handle the material.''
Biddle's words are ambitious, considering MBA's only current plant is a 20 million-pound-capacity facility in Richmond, Calif. He is even more ambitious when you consider the plant was out of commission for 10 months in late 2000 and early 2001 after a fire that killed an employee and caused more than $1 million in damage.
But other events are giving Biddle hope. Flextronics International Ltd., a major international injection molder in Singapore, bought an undisclosed stake in MBA late last year. Flextronics' recent molding projects include work with Microsoft's Xbox video game system and Palm Pilot hand-held devices.
MBA also received the first Thomas Alva Edison Award for Innovation from the Young Entrepreneurs Organization and the Edison Preservation Foundation. Foundation President John Keegan described MBA's ability to recycle plastics from complicated waste streams as ``the essence of true innovation.''
MBA could be doing its innovating elsewhere in the future, however, because of high electricity costs in California. In the summer months, MBA's electricity rates between noon and 6 p.m. are as much as five times higher than at other times of day, according to Biddle.
``Our lease is coming up and we'll consider other locations,'' he added. ``You can't run extruders under these electric conditions.''
MBA's proprietary technology allows it to separate numerous plastics - including ABS, high-impact polystyrene, polypropylene, polycarbonate, nylon and acrylic - from waste streams generated from used computer parts, appliances and other plastics-heavy products.
After removing metals and adhesives, MBA's X-ray fluorescence spectrometers and other equipment can identify types of plastics in milliseconds, Biddle said.
Plastics' low recycling rate - at most, only 4 percent of engineering plastics are recycled annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency - also represents a challenge to MBA.
``Very few engineering plastics are recycled, even though they're more valuable in cents per pound than recycled glass, steel, paper and aluminum,'' Biddle said. ``It's just so cheap to throw stuff away [in the United States] as compared to Europe and Japan.''
After rebuilding its 90,000-square-foot site, MBA has been able to triple its hourly output by debottlenecking. With last year's shutdown, MBA's annual sales decreased to less than $2 million, but Biddle said he expects sales to improve to as much as $4 million in 2002.