FEBRUARY 2009

The future of tire derived fuels is uncertain with implementation of The Clean Air Act

There is a monumental challenge facing the future of tire derived fuels (TDF) – new emission regulations that may come into effect under the Clean Air Act.

Currently, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially supports scrap tires for fuel in properly permitted facilities. Based on over 15 years of experience with over 80 facilities, EPA recognizes that tire-derived fuel is a viable alternative to fossil fuels. EPA testing shows that TDF has a higher BTU value than coal and EPA supports the responsible use of tires in portland cement kilns and other industrial plants, as long as the facilities have a tire storage and handling plan, secure permits from local, state and federal agencies and comply with the permits.

But change is in the air – change that may radically affect the future of TDFs. In April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a five to four decision in Massachusetts vs. EPA to confirm that EPA has authority to regulate greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. Most significantly, the court decreed that the EPA must move forward to regulate greenhouse gases. During Senate hearings on greenhouse gases last September, Bill Kovacs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned, “By all sources of greenhouse gas emissions, EPA means everything: cars, trucks, planes, trains, boats, office buildings, refineries, manufacturing plants, tractors, lawnmowers, motorcycles, schools, hospitals, data centers, breweries, bakeries, farms and countless other sources.”

In June, 2008 in the case of National Resources Defense Council v. EPA, the D.C. U.S. Court of Appeals vacated two EPA rules – the boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards and the CISWI (Commercial Industrial Solid Waste Incinerators) definitions rule. Now at issue are the questions of how TDFs will be defined for the purposes of regulations under Sections 112 and 129 of the Clean Air Act.

Michael Blumenthal, vice president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), who covers scrap tire issues nationwide, has been closely tracking the EPA decision as it affects TDFs. “There is basically only one of two ways EPA can go. One, they can rule that scrap tires for the purposes of the Clean Air Act are not considered solid waste if they meet a series of criteria under which each potential fuel would have to meet in order to be regulated under Section 112 (the control program for hazardous air pollutants), which would keep the status quo. The other way they could rule would be to say that all these fuels would have to be regulated under Section 129, the rules for solid waste combustion.”

Not amended since 1990, Section 112 governs national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants to limit the release of specified hazardous air pollutants from specific industrial sectors.

As of now, the Clean Air Act does not establish air quality standards for hazardous air pollutants that define legally acceptable concentrations of these pollutants in ambient air. Upcoming EPA regulations are likely to specify new standards.

Section 129 addresses emissions from solid waste combustion. At this time, emission guidelines do not directly regulate solid waste combustion units, but establish requirements for state plans to implement the guidelines. Once a state plan is approved, it becomes federally enforceable. “EPA has yet to render a new set of regulations for all solid wastes and any facility using any of those materials, such as TDF, biomass, sludge or wood, would have to stop using that material, said Blumenthal.

Blumenthal voiced an industry-wide consensus that plants using TDF do not want to be regulated under Section 129 because very stringent air emission standards are likely. The choice would be to continue to use TDFs as solid waste and comply with 129, or not use the solid waste fuels and remain under 112. In the latter case, plants would stop using all solid waste fuels, which goes beyond tires. Under 129, plants would have to do more testing – testing is expensive and because more individual materials will require testing, emission limits may be lowered. It becomes a very onerous, expensive, time-consuming process, plus the plant is considered a hazardous waste operation. “No pulp and paper mill in its right mind would ever want to be classified as a hazardous waste incinerator. It would end the use of TDF, period,” Blumenthal predicted.

Tyrone Wilson, Ph.D., director of Regulatory Affairs for the Portland Cement Association (PCA) commented on the future of TDF, “We’ve given the Clean Air Act a lot of thought in terms of how EPA should regulate tires under Section 112 and its potential impact on the use of scrap tires as an alternative fuel source in the manufacture of cement. Using tires as an alternative fuel source is environmentally beneficial with regard to the issue of CO2. For example, we know that pound-for-pound tires have more fuel value than coal. This is a widely recognized fact which dovetails nicely with the U.S. Department of Energy’s estimation that TDF combustion produces less CO2 per unit of energy than coal.”

For the first time as an industry, the PCA conducted an extensive research study on TDF emissions at 31 cement kilns. The findings were released at the GreenBuild Conference in Boston last November. It found that kilns firing TDF had emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, most metals, dioxin-furans, and sulfur dioxide that were slightly lower than conventional fuels. Levels for carbon monoxide and total hydrocarbons were slightly higher but those emission levels were not significantly different. “This is consistent with data and information that EPA and non-governmental research has shown,” said Wilson.

Regardless, tires as a fuel source in cement manufacturing will still face the same uncertainties as any other alternative or conventional fuel such as coal, oil or natural gas would face as it relates to the application of the Clean Air Act as the potential instrument to regulate greenhouse gases. “As an industry, we are not in favor of the Clean Air Act being used as the singular policy instrument for regulating greenhouse gases. We believe the Clean Air Act is not suited for this purpose and that a separate legal framework must be considered in order for EPA to come up with a more effective vehicle for regulating greenhouse gases. But we do feel that there is a bright future for the continued use of scrap tires as an alternative fuel given its potential for lower CO2 production relative to coal,” Wilson said.

Michael Blumenthal summarized RMA’s position, “If EPA does decide that TDFs have to be under Section 129, it would create a new solid waste crisis in the United States. You would have 180 million tires that would have gone into fuel that have no place to go to. Furthermore, what many people do not recognize is that TDF creates the basis upon which the entire scrap tire industry is based. It allows companies the economy of scale for maintaining collection and processing of tires. Our projection is that it would go way beyond just the TDF market and basically send a shock wave through the industry and a lot of companies would go out of business because they cannot survive making ground rubber.”

Tyrone Wilson at PCA also stated, “The key concern is that TDF are not classified in such a way that would prevent it from being regulated under Section 112. EPA and state regulatory agencies recognize the environmental benefit of using scrap tires in industries such as ours which utilize these materials in high combustion, large-scale manufacturing processes.”

No one knows when or what the EPA will decide. During the Bush administration, the EPA has been accused by opponents of dragging its feet and many believe because it is such a controversial issue with such far ranging implications.

Obviously, the federal EPA has been studying the matter carefully, getting feedback from state EPAs and being pressured by lobbyists representing a host of industries that may be negatively affected by new greenhouse gas regulations.

The Obama administration will face unprecedented economic problems, yet seems committed to an agenda that includes a green economy. That agenda should consider scrap tires as a valuable resource for producing energy and the most efficient method of recycling scrap tires.