Who among us has not thrown a questionable item into the recycling bin — a piece of thin or gnarled plastic, or some cheap paper we might have wondered about. Not all of it is good enough to actually be recycled into new paper or plastic after all.
In Medina, Ohio, Vexor Technology Inc. has come up with another way to use those items: Process them and burn them as fuel. And the company has been expanding its capacity to do just that for a partner that uses all of the fuel it can currently produce.
"We source a select variety of what we call 'difficult to recycle' paper, plastic and cardboard … and we process that into an engineered fuel," said Brian Surane, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.
The business is compatible with, and even supports, other efforts aimed at recycling, too, he said, because Vexor's process gives recyclers a better option than landfills for getting rid of the materials they reject.
"We don't want to keep actual recyclable materials out of the loop," Surane said.
The process is not as sophisticated or costly as some other methods of converting trash to fuel, such as those that cook and mix recipes of refuse into synthetic gas or oil. Vexor relies on selecting the right materials, grinding and mixing nonhazardous papers and plastics into a dry fuel made up of flakes and pieces about three-quarters of an inch in size. It doesn't burn as cleanly as some other fuels, such as natural gas, but that's OK in terms of the company's business model.
"This is replacing a fossil fuel — basically, replacing coal — with an engineered fuel," said Mario Romero, who took over as Vexor's CEO in early November.
He was previously CEO of Custom Ecology Inc., a Georgia-based waste management company.
Others around the world also are looking into burning plastic as fuel. Plastic is generally made from oil and gas to begin with, so it contains a lot of energy that can be released if it's burned.
In addition to Vexor, entities such as Penn State University are working on new ways to use it as a fuel.
"Our prototype machine works by taking waste plastics and forcing them through a heated extrusion die, melting a thin jacket that locks unmelted pieces within. A hot knife cuts the extruded material into easily stored and readily shipped nuggets called Plastofuel, which can be burned with coal in a coal-fired boiler or, eventually, combusted directly in the boiler system described," Penn State stated in an August article on its Penn State Extension website.