New tech fix for old tires on horizon in Los Lunas

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Stockpiles of old, discarded vehicle tires is a problem in the state. They pose serious health and environmental hazards, but the village of Los Lunas might have a solution.

At the June 6 meeting, the council approved a letter of intent from Alternative Industry Resources, a renewable energy company looking to build a tire recycling plant in the village.

The letter does not bind the village in any way, but makes a commitment to work with AIR on the proposed facility.

The technology the plant would use is so new, Los Lunas would be the first in the United States to have it in operation, said Christina Ainsworth, community development director.

AIR's expertise is engineering, and its mission is to protect the environment by promoting the creation of solution-based industries that can recycle hazardous solid wastes and return valuable commodities to the economy, said Oswaldo Galarza, chief executive officer.

It is a subsidiary of Sandia Development Incorporated, a New Mexico-based research and development firm in Albuquerque,

The 20,000-square-foot plant would require about 20 acres, and is estimated to cost about $12.6 million, Galarza said.

Land on the west side of Interstate 25 is being considered.

"It would take care of the tire dumping problem that we have," said Ainsworth. "Not just in New Mexico, but throughout the region."

The plant would take in tires from Texas, Arizona and Colorado.

It would provide 64 local management and manufacturing jobs with annual salaries starting at $30,000 to $120,000.

"I think it's a great idea in every way, especially the fact that there's nothing harmful to the environment," said Mayor Robert Vialpando. "I think it would put Los Lunas on the map for those kind of environmental solutions."

The tire recycling process, called pyrolysis, is a type of thermolysis that melts down the tires to a diesel fuel. It is the same technology used by such leaders in green industries as Germany. There are similar plants such as Klean Industries in Canada and British Columbia, Splainex in the Netherlands and Reklaim Energy in Oregon.

The tires are first shredded before undergoing a slow melting process that allows extraction of the steel wires.

Everything in the tire is recycled without any soil, water or air pollution, Galarza said.

It creates economically valuable products out of waste, and is the least expensive tire recycling system in the world, he said.

There are three end products — carbon black, steel and oil. Carbon black is used in inks, dyes and other rubber products. The oil produced is used as diesel fuel.

Galarza is working with Sandia National Laboratory because the lab has developed a process that can refine the oil to a high value diesel transportation fuel, he said.

"We are looking into licensing their technology, and the state of New Mexico has helped us finance the time for Sandia lab to do this research and be able to work on our behalf," Galarza said. "At the end of this research, Sandia labs will give us this new technology of taking the tires directly to a diesel component."

The U.S. generates about three million scrap tires annually and has an accumulated three billion scrap tires stockpiled across the country.

There are 46 known tire dump piles along the U.S.-Mexico border, the largest one near Ciudad Juárez with more than 4 million tires.

"It's a problem that will continue growing until we find a solution," said Galarza.

If the 5.5 million tires in New Mexico caught fire, New Mexico wouldn't see clean air for seven months, he said.

"Our goal is to take this waste and make energy, make it recyclable," he said. "The U.S. is behind in its recyclable mode. Europe has been recycling tires for many years … so a tire recycling (plant) is a great idea to be done in the U.S."

The company hopes to start building the plant in January 2014, said Judy Arciniaco, AIR consultant.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.