May 2006


Alternatives to landfilling polyurethane scrap materials
by Stephanie Bernard

Today, there are more options than ever for reuse of polyurethane scrap materials and some of these options are even available at a low cost or no cost. The use of polyurethanes has changed considerably over the past few decades, including how it is reused when it becomes a scrap material. To some companies, polyurethanes can be just as valuable after they have served their intended purpose and are ready to be discarded.

According to the Alliance for the Polyurethanes Industry’s (API) 2004 End-Use Market Survey, the polyurethane industry has experienced strong growth between 2002 and 2004. As consumer confidence in polyurethane materials grows and the demand for a greater comfort of living increases, more and more polyurethane will end up in our landfills as waste. But companies don’t have to “waste” these materials by sending them to a landfill. Polyurethane has a high BTU value, which makes them optimal for energy recovery.

It is no surprise with the price of natural gas reaching an all time high, there is an increased interest from some companies to use alternative sources of fuel. These new fuels may not only reduce cost, but can be environmentally friendly, as they can reduce the volume of solid waste entering landfills as well as help reduce some of the dependence on fossil fuels, which may lead to conservation of some natural resources.

Post-industrial polyurethane scrap such as rigid foam and elastomers are just a couple of examples of the type of materials that have been targeted for this type of reuse.

The Alliance for the Polyurethanes Industry (API) has identified one facility that is taking advantage of this type of reuse today. Dynegy Midwest Generation, located in Illinois, uses polyurethane scrap and other materials as alternative fuels to provide electricity to markets and customers throughout the United States. Currently, they can burn over 500 tons of scrap material per day. Dynegy’s goal is to identify fuels that reduce emissions, reduce costs and do not impair operations. According to Dynegy’s estimates for their process, for each ton of coal displaced by polyurethane scrap, there is a reduction of over eight pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2) produced. API is working to identify facilities within the geographic proximity of Dynegy that have polyurethane scrap materials that can be sent to their facilities to be used as an engineered fuel.

Most of the problems with alternative fuels are material handling related. Materials sent for reuse are often too light, misshaped or generated in an insufficient quantity to merit delivery. The solution to these problems is to have an aggregator compile the material and make the final fuel size and consistency that is ideal for the power plant. The specifications for the polyurethane scrap material accepted by Dynegy are listed in the above chart. The price for polyurethane alternative fuels will depend on the quality but could have an average yield of $0.70 to $0.75 per MMBTU, which could equal about $16 to $18 per ton delivered to the plant. All and all, better than a trip to the landfill!


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