Tires can’t be thrown in a dumpster or end up in a landfill. Because of that, they can be a huge pain to get rid of. What do you do when you have a pile of tires around? Global Clean Energy Inc. (GCE) recycles them and other debris into energy as part of a waste-to-energy project called Reforming Environmental Salvage into Clean Usable Energy (RESCUE.) GCE is a company located near Houston, Texas that focuses on programs that convert waste into energy of high value.

Steven Mann, the GCE’s Chief Development Officer, says this is an exciting time for the waste-to-energy industry and GCE is excited to be a part of it. There are new technologies that can turn not just tires, but many different kinds of MSW (municipal solid waste) into usable energy that the U.S. needs. Mann says that converting discarded tires into energy is becoming a more popular idea. Though the idea has always been popular, the technology wasn’t around to support it, and it wasn’t feasible to make the idea come to life. There are already many waste-to-energy projects in the works that will go live within the next few years. New technology is in the works that uses different heating elements, and it looks promising for the future.

The future for tires looks bright due to the existing developments and progress on new technologies. In order to turn the tires into energy, GCE has a conversion process. GCE first collects the tires, shreds them down to pieces of ¾ inch, and de-wires them. The small chips are superheated up to 450 degrees in the pyrolysis system in the absence of oxygen so they do not combust.

Mann describes the conversion process: “when you indirectly heat tire chips to 450 degrees Celsius, you break down the hydrocarbons to form synthesis gas (syngas) and solids (carbon). The carbon is micro-milled to a fine powder and pelletized to create tire derived carbon black or rCB to replace crude oil derived carbon black for pigmentation and lower grade rubber products. The syngas is condensed into a Pyroil, which is then upgraded to a D975 ultra-low sulfur diesel. Any syngas that is not condensed into Pyroil, is recirculated back into the burners so the gas produced by the pyrolysis system is used almost 100 percent so there is very little waste”.

There are many benefits of turning old tires into usable energy. The first, and possibly most obvious reason, is that it reduces the number of tires that somehow end up in landfills. Since most landfills already don’t accept tires, the conversion process also (and more importantly) keeps them out of illegal dumpsites where their presence can really harm the environment and the wildlife (and people) that live in it. Tires are toxic and can leak chemicals into the soil, provide breeding grounds pests (such as mosquitoes), serve as a danger for waste fires, or find their way into rivers and oceans. It’s a huge benefit to society to avoid those situations. The conversion process helps the environment and creates cleaner energy than other traditional methods, like oil wells and mining. Turning tire waste into a clean version of fuel, energy, or carbon is an excellent and pure form of recycling.

While there are benefits to this process, there are also challenges that go along with it. Securing a steady supply of tires has been problematic in the past. Thankfully, GCE was able to do this in October of 2014, when they got a long-term agreement with Liberty Tire Recycling, who processes more than 140 million tires each year. It also can be difficult to choose the correct technology that has been proven to work, to choose the best site for the project, and to secure agreements for the fuels produced by the process. CGE has also been able to make significant progress in these regards, enough so that they are looking into new applications for their waste-to-energy process.

The projects put together by GCE will keep more than 1.6 million old waste tires out of landfills during the first year, and that number is expected to double to more than 3.2 million in the second phase. The project is set up for continued success for a few reasons. They are using proven technology and have secured the necessary tire feedstock and off-take agreements. Their site contains the necessary infrastructure and they have room to spare for expansion, with 125,000 square feet available in their current facility. The location is also excellent: near major highways, and includes a rail spur, water, natural gas and electricity. All of the elements are in place and the next few years should be exciting and promising ones for the projects of GCE.