Can mixed automotive scrap be turned into usable diesel fuel?
Modern alchemists at the research firm Changing World Technologies Inc. already have turned a 5-gallon bucket's worth of automotive shredder residue into a small vial of oil through a demonstration of its depolymerization process.
Now the auto industry's Vehicle Recycling Partnership - backed by General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG - and the American Plastics Council are financing a small-scale probe tracking more detailed information on the process and whether it is a feasible alternative to landfilling auto scrap.
``We did find out that they can do something with shredder residue,'' said Gerry Winslow, a coordinator for VRP, during the Society of Plastics Engineers' Global Plastics Environmental Conference, held Feb. 18 in Detroit. ``Now we're going to find out what exactly they can do.''
Other companies have suggested chemical recycling processes in the past to handle hard-to-recycle mixed plastics and rubber, but high costs have meant that few actually have reached a commercial stage.
Changing World Technologies of West Hempstead, N.Y., is researching ways to draw usable material out of a variety of waste, including plastics, rubber, medical waste and even municipal sewage sludge.
It has one commercial application of its program, a plant in Carthage, Mo., processing 200 tons daily of internal organs and other scrap from a turkey plant and turning it into 500 barrels' worth of fuel oil.
The company uses a proprietary thermal depolymerization system to convert the hydrocarbons and organic materials into oil and other products.
In-house CWT studies predicted it could turn 100 pounds of PET and high density polyethylene bottles into 70 pounds of oil, 16 pounds of natural gas, 6 pounds of carbon solids and 8 pounds of water.
About 75 percent of the weight of a typical car or truck is recycled in the United States, with auto scrapyards pulling the value from engine parts and metal, Winslow said. The remaining components, including mixed plastics, glass, cloth and foam, go through a shredder and are shipped to landfills.
VRP has studied ways to separate out the plastics from that residue and has joined with APC and the U.S. government's Argonne National Laboratories to continue research into commercially viable systems.
The CWT system is worth looking into for another potential alternative, said Mike Fisher, technology director for Arlington, Va.-based APC. So far, though, the council and its partners do not have many details on how the system would work.
The auto and plastics groups did not do a break-down of what materials were in the sample it sent to CWT for the first study, Winslow said, and because it was a free ``snapshot,'' could not get full details of the results. With the new research, the groups have far more information on what they are shipping to the company's research and development facility in Philadelphia.
The groups also will have more access to specifics of the process, including information on any problems coming from chlorine or lead content within the materials and the actual costs of any commercial process.
``We are going to gain more knowledge on what they are doing,'' he said. ``If it turns out that the fuel oil costs more through this than I can get buying it at the local store, then once again we have to see that recycling is not going to work if it has to be subsidized.''