By Chuck Crumbo
Published Aug. 6, 2012
Climax Global Energy Inc. expects to launch operations by late summer at its new plastics-to-oil recycling plant in Barnwell County.
The facility is designed to convert mixed-waste plastics that usually are buried in a landfill into high-grade synthetic oil, which can be refined into diesel fuel, lubricants and commercial waxes.
“This is a very exciting period for us right now,” said Climax Global CEO John Griffith, during a presentation at the S.C. Clean Energy Summit July 18 in Columbia.
What makes Climax Global’s approach unique in the recycling world is technology called pyrolysis that involves microwave chemistry and uses rigid plastics — Nos. 3-7 — for feedstock.
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But the plastic used to make items like blister packs, crates, pallets, carts, plastic cups and clamshell containers, usually get tossed. Often, waste haulers and industrial firms wind up paying tipping fees at landfills to bury the rigid plastic products.
Pyrolysis, Griffith said, is a non-combustion technology.
“We can chemically break those plastics down into a synthetic crude oil,” Griffith said.
The process uses microwave energy to heat a reactor vessel containing shredded plastic. The heat causes the plastic to break down chemically, leaving behind a low-sulfur, synthetic crude oil, said Griffith, who left Merrill Lynch in 2008 to become Climax Global’s chief.
During the process, the plastic converts to light gases including butane, methane and propane.
“We will use the light gases to provide heat for the process,” Griffith said. “We will likely have excess gas beyond heat requirements, so (we) would intend to use the remainder for steam production or electricity generation.”
The process also separates the oil from metal, dirt, rocks and whatever else might stick to the plastic that goes into the vessel reactor, Griffith said. The residual matter settles at the bottom of the vessel. It’s either buried in a landfill or incinerated.
Pyrolysis is energy efficient, using 10-15% of the energy that was needed to make the material in the first place, Griffith said. It also minimizes the need to drill for oil and transport it to refineries.
The process can produce 50 barrels of oil daily from 10 tons of plastics, Griffith said.
Although he declined to discuss production costs, Griffith said the Climax Global process is economical and practical. The company figures the synthetic oil produced in the process can compete with crude oil.
The company thinks there’s potential for a plentiful supply of feedstock needed to produce the synthetic oil.
In South Carolina, about 10% of municipal solid waste, or 4.2 million tons per year, is plastic. That figure doesn’t include what might be collected from industrial users.
Presently, there isn’t a “very robust market” for the rigid plastics for recycling, Griffith said. Most of what the United States recycles in the Nos. 3-7 plastics are transported to China.
The Blackville facility’s initial supply of mixed-waste plastics will come from the Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority Regional Landfill in Aiken County.
Climax Global’s facilities will be modular, built to handle various amounts of recyclable plastic available at recycling sites, Griffith added.
A facility’s capacity will depend on how many vessel reactors are installed. For example, a facility in a rural area might be built to handle 20 tons of plastic per day, while one in an urban area might have the daily capacity for 100 tons.
“You have to be able to do it in relatively small volumes because plastics are a small percentage of the waste stream and don’t transport very well,” Griffith said, adding that the lightweight material can be costly to haul to a recycling facility.
“You want to have technology with a relatively small footprint that you can put relatively near the supply of plastic. … Our facilities can be on site at a recycler or off-site,” he added.
Climax Global was founded in 2005 and established a research-and-development facility in the Allendale County community of Fairfax. In December, the company announced plans for a commercial facility in the Blackville Industrial Park, off U.S. 78, in Barnwell County. The company expects to create 20 jobs.
“Barnwell County is a great location for our business and offers a talented workforce to suit our needs. We appreciate the support we’ve received from state and local officials,” Thomas Pinto, COO of Climax Global Energy, said in 2011.
State organizations backing Climax Global include the Southern Carolina Alliance, which recruited the company to locate its R&D facility in Allendale County. Also, SC Launch, an affiliate of the South Carolina Research Authority, invested $200,000 in Climax Global in 2008.
The company believes its technology has potential to change recycling of rigid plastics in South Carolina and the nation.
“With conventional approaches, recycling is often not economical due to costs associated with sorting and cleaning,” John Hemmings, chief technology officer at Climax Global, told South Carolina Business, a S.C. Chamber of Commerce publication. “Since our approach is to handle mixtures of plastics, which do not need to be cleaned, it opens up a lot of possibilities for recycling in places where conventional recycling simply does not make sense.”
Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-401-1094, ext. 204.