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Transforming old tires

April 25, 2011
Truckers know well the value of retreading their tires – and you can visit the Retread Tire Association to get more facts about the inherent savings offered by retreading than I can print here. But what happens when tires reach the end of their ...

Truckers know well the value of retreading their tires – and you can visit the Retread Tire Association to get more facts about the inherent savings offered by retreading than I can print here.

But what happens when tires reach the end of their usable life? Unofficially, in my conversations with fleets and various tire experts, the average truck tire can be at most retreaded twice – three times if you take really great care of them. So then what?

In the past, most tires ended up in landfills – to the tune of some 242 million per year, which includes truck, car, and equipment models. But now there’s a growing list of alternatives to the dump – some of which have been around for a while and some that are brand new.

Take “tire derived fuel” or “TDF” for short. This is a substance being touted as alternative energy source to coal, oil, wood and natural gas that can be consumed by cement kilns, pulp and paper mills, even power plants, according to Jeffrey Kendall, CEO of Liberty Tire Recycling.

TDF is basically shredded tires that are processed to rid them of steel and fiber material, creating fuel chips that produce 25% more energy than coal while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 19.5%, he noted. “It’s is one of several viable alternatives to prevent newly generated scrap tires from inappropriate disposal in tire piles, and for reducing or eliminating existing tire stockpiles,” Kendall added.

[Another more revolution “tire-to-fuel” approach is being worked on across the pond in Wales, where UTD Research is trying to refine a process whereby old tires get turned into a diesel-like substance to create a “blended” fuel much like biodiesel.]

Liberty’s Kendall notes that approximately 10 million tires per year are now being consumed as fuel at dedicated tire-to-energy facilities, which are specifically designed to burn TDF to create energy.

He added that Liberty Tire Recycling provides enough TDF to generate 100% of the electricity needed to power a city of 153,000 people – equal to the population of Fort Lauderdale, FL. When used as an alternative energy source, TDF generates up to 16,000 BTUs per pound – with lower moisture, sulfur, nitrogen and ash than fossil fuels.

Thus, in Liberty’s view potentially, all of the scrap tires produced in the U.S. annually could provide an energy source equivalent to 13 million barrels of crude oil.

Of course, tires at the end of their useful life can be turned into many other products other than just fuel stock.

Below, for example, is a video about West Coast Rubber Tire Recycling, showing off its tire reclamation process and the many different products that old rubber gets made into.

Liberty notes that it now recycles more than 130 million tires annually throughout the U.S. and Canada, creating about 1.5 billion pounds of recycled rubber for landscaping and playground mulch, crumb rubber for asphalt pacing materials, and of course its TDF stock for cement kilns, power plants, etc., every year.

Just goes to show there’s still valuable life left in them there old truck tires of yours, even when you can’t retread them anymore.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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