Now more than ever, businesses are looking for end-of-life solutions for low-value, difficult-to-recycle materials. While this topic has just started gaining mainstream traction throughout the industry over the last year, Medina, Ohio-based Vexor Technology has been committed to finding better ways to treat waste since its founding in 1999.
Vexor began operations as a non-hazardous waste treatment facility. The company’s mission at the outset was to provide non-hazardous waste disposal services so that its customers could know where their waste went and how it was being disposed of to minimize long-term liability.
As the company began to grow, Vexor understood that certain industrial materials like inks, sludges, oils and oily absorbents had a high British thermal unit (Btu) value and a potential for being used as a fuel supplement. Vexor’s first venture into engineered fuel began in early 2006 in Dorchester, South Carolina, where the company produced engineered fuel for Holcim Cement’s Holly Hill facility. Since that first foray into the space, Vexor has continued to produce engineered fuel at its Cleveland- area location.
Today, Vexor offers sustainable solutions for low-value, difficult-to-recycle commodities such as certain types of packaging and synthetic fiber material. These materials are blended with non-hazardous, high Btu industrial wastes to produce an engineered fuel that can be used as a clean-burning alternative to coal. In addition to engineered fuel, Vexor provides non-hazardous processing, treatment and recycling solutions to a customer base that includes manufacturers, chemical companies and environmental services companies. These services include consumer product destruction; waste-to-energy services; and oil/water separation, treatment and recycling.
Expanding on its previous operations, Vexor launched a new fuel processing site in Gary, Indiana, at the beginning of 2017 that leveraged the same low-value materials as feedstock for its Vexor Engineered Fuel (VEF), which replaces conventional coal used in burners in the lime, cement and steel industries, as well as for utilities. VEF has similar properties to coal, but is much lower in mercury and sulfur, Vexor says.
Vexor’s Gary plant is a joint venture with one of its customers, Pittsburgh-based Carmeuse Lime and Stone, where Vexor generates its alternative fuel for Carmeuse to use in its kilns. Expanding to the Gary location made sense for Vexor since it is within close proximity of Carmeuse’s lime plant, also located in Gary, and is near the Chicago market, which offers ample volumes of its potential feedstock.
According to Mario Romero, president and CEO of Vexor, the Gary location makes it easy for Vexor to access the materials needed to meet its demand.
“We work with recyclers, as well as manufacturers in different industries (for example, packaging, labeling, plastics, personal care and automotive), who are committed to reducing or eliminating landfill disposal of their waste materials,” Romero says. “Our primary focus is to provide solutions for low-value materials that are hard to recycle, such as flexible packaging, films, bags, wraps, foams and fibers.”
This material either arrives loose in compactors, walking-floor trailers, end dumps or roll-offs to the facility or via van trailers containing bales, cubic yard boxes and pallets.
How the process unfolds
Before the incoming material can be processed, Vexor oversees a rigorous quality control procedure for the feedstock coming in its door.
“The first step in the process is to qualify the incoming material to determine its acceptance for use in the alternative fuel program,” Romero says. “Our sales team assesses the suitability of the waste streams as feedstock components for the alternative fuel. Once deemed as being potentially suitable, samples of the customer’s waste stream are taken, and the material is analyzed and evaluated against our acceptance and processing criteria. If deemed acceptable for the program, the customer is issued a waste approval number specific to the waste stream.”
Once the feedstock arrives on-site, the material must be run through the facility’s sorting, conveying and shredding systems.
Vexor worked with Lindner Recyclingtech, a German manufacturer of shredders for the waste-to-energy and recycling industries, for the design and build of the new facility, which has a nameplate capacity of 50 tons per hour. According to Romero, Lindner was chosen, in part, because of Vexor’s prior experience with their equipment and service, as they previously supplied technology for the company’s Medina facility.
“Loads are scheduled in advance, usually three to five days ahead. The laboratory and production teams then work together to select the materials to be processed to meet the desired alternative fuel parameters,” Romero says. “Those material are blended and processed according to [our specifications]. Processing consists of using a sequence of shredders and magnets to achieve the desired physical and chemical composition.”
For the Gary facility, Lindner supplied three stationary shredders—a Lindner Jupiter 3200 for primary shredding and two Komet 2800 HP models for secondary shredding—as well as the sorting and conveying technology required to produce the VEF.
Shredding is necessary to ensure the grain quality in fuel end products is the proper consistency. Because the input material coming into Vexor is diverse—often tough, wet, heavy and mixed with foreign matter—Vexor relies on Lindner’s specialized equipment that is suited for these feedstocks.
For example, Romero says the Jupiter 3200 used for primary shredding is unaffected by foreign objects and difficult materials, and the Komet 2800 HP used for secondary shredding is strong enough to clean up the remaining matter in an efficient and effective manner. Two additional rows of cutters and powerful high-performance engines allow for large volumes of waste to be processed into high-quality fuel with a grain size of less than one inch.
After thorough testing and analysis, and the material being shredded and having metals, inert materials and other heavy, non-processable objects removed, it is reprocessed to final fuel specifications.
The end product is then analyzed to confirm that it meets the specifications to be used as an alternative fuel.
Doing their part
While producing high-quality alternative fuel is good business for Vexor, the ability to do its part to help promote diversion is equally important, according to Romero.
“There have been studies which show since 1950, over 7 billion tons of plastics exist on the planet in landfills, discarded as pollution or as recycled trash,” Romero says. “With estimated plastics recycling rates around 9 to 11 percent, even the best intentions to recycle have only delayed the eventual discarding of many plastics as trash. Vexor’s process ensures an end-of-life solution for these low-value materials where they can be used for their calorific value as opposed to landfill. The energy extracted from these existing materials reduces the need for mining virgin fossil fuels. It also results in an energy product that is lower in sulfur and mercury compared to coal.”
According to data from Waste Business Journal, the San Diego-based research publication, total U.S. landfill capacity is expected to decrease by more than 15 percent over the next five years. By 2021, an estimated 10 to 15 years of landfill capacity will remain in the U.S.
As existing landfill space grows in importance, Romero says technologies like those employed by Vexor can help maximize the space that is available in an eco-friendly way.
“The primary benefit of landfill diversion is the maximization of existing landfill space,” Romero explains. “Vexor has a production capacity between its two facilities which can keep over 250,000 tons of unrecyclable materials per year out of landfills.”
Romero expects to add two to three more operations over the next several years in strategic locations across the U.S.
He says this expansion will allow Vexor to be better aligned to meet the needs of its customers across the country, while simultaneously helping divert difficult-to-recycle materials from landfill.
“Our goal in the coming years is to continue to be recognized as a premier supplier of alternative fuel to support the sustainability and energy needs of our customers,” Romero says.