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Tires to electricity

Fri, Oct 4th, 2002
Posted in Features

Heartland Energy & Recycling hopes to build a power generating plant in Preston that would use tire derived fuel to generate electricity that would be sold on the grid. The plant would also sell scrap steel and ash derived from a fluidized bed combustion process. The plant would use approximately 100,000 tires annually and employ more that 20 people.An Environmental Assessment Worksheet has been filed with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and a comment period on whether an Environmental Impact Statement is required on the project. The comment period runs until October 23.Journal Editor spoke with Heartland President Bob Maust at the proposed site of the plant in Prestons Industrial Park on Thursday, October 3. A summary of this interview follows: Journal: You have a windmill by your house and a year or so ago you wrote a letter to the Journal about the odor from the ethanol plant. So, what many people want to know is why a tire burning facility in Preston? Why not something cleaner?Maust: Yes, I have been involved in wind generation since 1976, but what makes you think that the tire burning facility wont be clean?Journal: Its a pre-conception many people have.Maust: Its a pre-conception in everybodys mind that because you have seen a tire burn in a pile of brush, and you see lots of black smoke coming off, that this is the way it will be in an industrial complex. Its pretty simple. Tires are a highly concentrated source of energy. Basically the composition of todays tire is 95% derived from crude oil. And so you have taken the liquidity of oil and put it into a solid form and you have a high concentration of BTUs (British Thermal Units). Without force feeding oxygen, you dont get complete combustion. And when you dont have complete combustion, you see smoke. Smoke is telling you that you have un-burned fuel. In this proposed facility, you have fuel being fed under a very elaborate controlled and monitored system that produces emissions so good that this plant generates green credits. Journal: What are green credits?Maust. Our emissions are so far under the standard, that utilities that buy our electricity will be able to apply our green credits against another plant they have (whose emissions are not as good).Journal: Walk us through the scope and scale of what is being proposed here.Maust: There is a bit of a misconception out there. Our intention is to primarily fuel this plant at all times with scrapped tires if the quantity is available. The only time we would go to waste clean wood is if the economics of wood would exceed that of tires, which is very unlikely. Normally 100% of the BTUs would come from tires. Tires burn cleaner than wood, not many people understand that. The BTUs in a pound of tires is twice what it is in a pound of wood. So it takes twice as much wood to generate the energy you would get fueling with tires. This facility will take in approximately 110,000 tons of tires a year (if we are burning 100% tires). In tire terms, this is equivalent to about 10,000,000 car tire equivalents. And one car tire equivalent to us is a little over 20 pounds.Journal: It is my understanding that fluid bed technology is not new, and using tire derived fuel for energy is not new, but the combination of the two are. How did you arrive at that combination?Maust: Energy Products Company of Idaho, who is the manufacturer of the combustion boilers and the related parts of this plant, has 30 years experience with 80 fluidized bed energy installations. They are a leader in thermal oxidation technology. In 1973, they were the first company in the U.S. to convert waste biomass into usable energy. The two French Island plants in LaCrosse that burn garbage and wood waste have EPI fluid bed combusters in them. Essentially anything that can be combusted can be burned in a fluid bed combuster in an environmentally friendly atmosphere.So, this is not something new. It is a 30 year old technology that is finding new uses. This plant will computer monitor stack emissions, and record data on every single minute of its operations. It isnt like some of the unregulated stacks in the area. Ours are monitored continuously.Journal: Jenny Reinertsen of the MPCA said on Monday night that this is the best available technology.Maust: We cant make the technology any better. Journal: If anything combustible will work, then why tires? Does that go back to your relationship with that industry? Maust: Sure. That goes back to the fact that we started scrap tire recycling in the upper Midwest right here in Preston, Minnesota. We ran at this very location in the late 80s and in 1990 moved the operation to Savage where it continues today. The production of tire derived fuel at the Savage plant, all of that being 60% of the weight of the tires, is sent to Big Stone, South Dakota, Mason City, Iowa, Ashland, Wisconsin, and other places outside of Minnesota because there arent facilities in Minnesota permitted to burn that type of material; or they do not have the modern technology that this plant would offer.One of the sad things that happens today, because of the contamination in the steel in the radial tires that we all use today, 40% of the weight of a scrap tire has to be discarded and put into a landfill because the steel contamination makes it unusable to burn in the old type of combusters. So, all of the steel is thrown away.Todays tire is by weight 15 to 25 percent steel. This plant in Preston will produce 50 to 75 tons of clean scrap steel a day, which will be sold as scrap steel.The plant also will produce upward of 50 tons of ash per day that will go to a cement manufacturer in Mason City as an additive.Journal: What are the benefits of this plant? You talked about green credits, what are some other benefits?Maust: This plant will produce enough electricity to power all the needs of Preston, Wykoff, Fountain, Lanesboro, Harmony and all the farms in between. We will remove 40 - 50,000 tons a year from Minnesota landfills. We will use approximately 10,000 tons of limestone which will be produced from local quarries. This is used as a cleaning agent, we put approximately 1800 lbs. of limestone per hour into the combustor which absorbs the sulfur dioxide. The exhaust coming out of the stack is 99.37% pure.We talk of 800 tons in total emissions per year, but that is compared to 110,000 tons of tires going in, which is nothing. It is no secret that when there became an odor problem at the ethanol facility, I live nearby, that I was concerned. We talked to the people at Pro-Corn and, my engineers recommended that thermal oxidizers could make a difference. Contrary to what some have said, it is much better than it was (after Pro-Corn installed their oxidizer). Journal: People have a lot of concerns about what they consider to be the potential externalities of the this plant, in combination with the ethanol plant. Odor, dust, residue, pollutants, concerns about health.Maust: You wont find any odor. You wont find any residue. Our stack is 210 feet tall. You wont see anything coming out of the stack unless the temperature is cool enough to condensate the steam. The other big difference in burning tires instead of other fuels is that tires have almost no moisture, it is less than 1/2 percent. Journal: You are taking measures to control emissions, what controls are you taking on the movement and storage of tires.Maust: The fuel bunker which is 300 feet long and 90 feet wide will be covered by a structure. No rain or snow will fall on that fuel. The structure is exactly like the one the county built for the sand storage shed in Spring Valley. Journal: The city council of Preston issued you a conditional use permit in May. Were there any conditions placed on the permit?Maust: We have a permit from the city to construct and operate the plant. We have received two variances, the plant is 90 feet tall, and the stack is 210 feet tall, and these exceeded the 75 feet that is normally permitted. We also needed an operating permit for a sub-station, which we received.Journal: This is all new - fluid bed technology, tire derived fuel combination - its never been done. Are we a test case, or guinea pigs to see if it all works and the air is as clean as it is reported to be?Maust: The best way to answer that is to say that the investors wouldnt be very confident to spend 40 to 50 million dollars with unproven technology. This isnt experimental. Its going to work.Journal: This building here has had a kind of a checkered past. Its had a history. Many people ask is this going to last and what kind of resources are behind it?Maust: Well, the power contract is for 10 years. The average life of a power plant is 50 years. And there hasnt been a new one built in Minnesota in 17 years. And this is very small one.They built homes here (at this site). We also made fire logs here, that had to go to a retail market. I believe that we have learned that the only real market that is there every single day that can be counted on is the fact that you can sell electricity every single day, 24 hours a day. We can find scrap tires every single day, 365 days a year if you want to look for them. Presently the amount of tires being processed in Savage exceeds the amount of tires this plant needs. We have the raw materials; we have the market on the back side. I guess we have the limestone in local quarries. And I believe that all the ingredients are ready to make this happen.Journal: What kind of investors do you have? We are talking $40 to $50 million. Maust: Its all private industry. The money is only committed after we have the permits. If we dont have permits, then there is nothing to talk about. If the community is very opposed to having this facility come here, then it probably wont. It will go someplace else. And that will probably be the communitys choice. So, if they are against it, the investors are going to say, there are other people that want us, that can see what it can do for a community.

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