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In Nova Scotia, the LaFarge Brookfield cement plant burns nearly 400,000 scrap tires a year, which the cement company says will cut its carbon emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030.
While LaFarge continues to burn tires with the blessing of the provincial government, a lot of people, including environmental groups, are not pleased that the toxins created by burning tires are sent into the atmosphere.
So, it was an interesting turn of events Tuesday when Michelin Group, one of the largest tire manufacturers in the world and one of the largest employers in Nova Scotia, announced it had a development pact with Montreal’s Pyrowave Inc. to recycle styrene, which is used to make polystyrene and synthetic rubber for tires.
While it is not known whether the new technology will stop the burning of tires in the province, there is a chance it could lead to that. Michelin didn’t respond when asked whether its three manufacturing plants in Nova Scotia would be involved in the recycling method.
Pyrowave technology makes it possible to generate recycled styrene from plastics used to make styrofoam cups, yogurt cups, packaging, insulation panels and household appliances by breaking down the materials to their chemical components.
It uses microwaves to break down the plastic waste into high-quality raw material. The chemicals at the end of the process can replace virgin raw materials from oil and natural gas.
Jocelyn Doucet, founder and CEO of Pyrowave, says his company’s method of recycling is more sophisticated than current recycling methods, such as taking the plastic and turning it into a park bench.
Doucet told me in a telephone interview that Michelin plans to introduce the technology in Europe, where the market is better prepared.
There is already a huge supply chain in Europe with the materials needed in the recycling process, he said. There is a large waste stream and chemical companies have a big presence there.
Doucet said the European countries are already collecting much of the feedstock needed to operate Pyrowave’s reactor. The polystyrene is being collected and sorted, and there is a strong desire to stop using crude oil or natural gas to make plastics there.
European policies are more stringent about recycling than in North America, he said.
“Although I know Nova Scotia is quite good about recycling too.”
Governments in Europe are also imposing a tax on plastics made from virgin material, sourced from oil or natural gas, which helps to open the door for Pyrowave.
Doucet said he’s been working on the technology to recycle plastics in this way for at least 10 years. He’s been in talks with Michelin about a development agreement over the past 18 months.
After a year of evaluation, Michelin indicated in a news release that it was able to see the process in operation and test samples of recycled styrene in the composition of its tires.
“This polymer regeneration process is fully in line with Michelin Group's strategic vision and its product sustainability objectives,” the company stated.
"This partnership is an ultimate illustration of the (Michelin) Group's sustainable strategy. The purpose is to manufacture tires made of increasingly sustainable materials and to make these technologies available to innovative recycling channels,” Sonia Artinian-Fredou, Michelin Group executive vice-president, said in the release.
“We believe in the potential of Pyrowave technology and share their vision for a more sustainable future through innovation."
Although Michelin is best known for making tires, both companies are hopeful the technology will create a new value chain for the creation of packaging, or the use of recycled plastics in the automotive and electronics sectors.
According to the agreement, the companies will work together to fast–track the industrialization of Pyrowave technology with a view to certification and commercial rollout in international markets.
The joint development agreement, which will ultimately account for an investment of more than 20 million euros, will combine Pyrowave's expertise with Michelin's industrial know-how, the companies stated in a joint release.
In order to fast–track the technology, Michelin's technical teams will work with Pyrowave to develop an industrial demonstrator, funded and operated by Michelin, by 2023.
After a year of evaluation, Michelin was able to see the process in operation and test samples of recycled styrene in the composition of its tires.
While polystyrene is the first material it will be recycling, Doucet said, Pyrowave will be able to recycle other plastics.
Nova Scotians will be watching eagerly as this technology progresses, for a variety of reasons.