Vexor Technology in Medina processes ‘difficult to recyle’ paper and plastic into an engineered fuel.
By DAN SHINGLER
Crain's Cleveland Business • USA • Dec 1 • 07:00am
Vexor Technology in Medina processes ‘difficult to recyle’ paper and plastic into an engineered fuel
Photo by Contributed Photo
Who among us has not thrown a questionable item into the recycling bin — a piece of thin or gnarled plastic, or some cheap paper we might have wondered about. Not all of it is good enough to actually be recycled into new paper or plastic after all.
In Medina, Vexor Technology has come up with another way to use those items: Process them and burn them as fuel. And the company has been expanding its capacity to do just that for a partner that uses all of the fuel it can currently produce.
"We source a select variety of what we call 'difficult to recycle' paper, plastic and cardboard … and we process that into an engineered fuel," said Brian Surane, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.
The business is compatible with and even supports other efforts aimed at recycling, too, he said, because Vexor's process gives recyclers a better option than landfills for getting rid of the materials they reject.
"We don't want to keep actual recyclable materials out of the loop," Surane said.
The process is not as sophisticated or costly as some other methods of converting trash to fuel, such as those that cook and mix recipes of refuse into synthetic gas or oil. Vexor relies on selecting the right materials, grinding and mixing nonhazardous papers and plastics into a dry fuel made up of flakes and pieces about three-quarters of an inch in size. It doesn't burn as cleanly as some other fuels, such as natural gas, but that's OK in terms of the company's business model.
Vexor Technology CEO Mario Romero
"This is replacing a fossil fuel — basically, replacing coal — with an engineered fuel," said Mario Romero, who took over as Vexor's CEO in early November.
He was previously CEO of Custom Ecology Inc., a Georgia-based waste management company.
Others around the world also are looking into burning plastic as fuel. Plastic is generally made from oil and gas to begin with, so it contains a lot of energy that can be released if it's burned.
In addition to Vexor, entities such as Penn State University are working on new ways to use it as a fuel.
"Our prototype machine works by taking waste plastics and forcing them through a heated extrusion die, melting a thin jacket that locks unmelted pieces within. A hot knife cuts the extruded material into easily stored and readily shipped nuggets called Plastofuel, which can be burned with coal in a coal-fired boiler or, eventually, combusted directly in the boiler system described," Penn State states in an August article on its Penn State Extension website.
Romero and Surane said Vexor's engineered fuel is intended to compete with coal. It does burn much more cleanly than coal, with a reduction of up to 80% in some of the pollutants found in coal, they said, while at the same time keeping waste from landfills. It's also cheaper than coal and can be mixed and burned with coal if necessary.
That landfill factor is important to some trash haulers and their customers, as more companies and local governments seek to minimize how much waste they put into landfills or to eliminate the use of landfills altogether, Surane said.
As for the desirability of the fuel, it's useful in energy-intensive processes, such as the production of lime and cement, and even could be used as a fuel to produce electricity, Surane said. So far, all of Vexor's output is being used by a single partner, Belgium-
based Carmeuse Group, an international lime and limestone company that uses the fuel in its U.S. lime kilns.
Vexor began producing the fuel in 2010 at a 60,000-square-foot facility at its Medina plant, which for more than 20 years has been handling other types of industrial and specialty waste as well.
"Then, based on the success of the engineered fuel here, we opened the plant in Gary," Surane said. That was in April, when Vexor opened a second, larger plant — this one 70,000 square feet — in Indiana to also provide fuel for Carmeuse, which touts its own sustainability in its marketing efforts.
"The two plants keep 250,000 tons per year from going into landfills," Surane said.
There's room to do more, too, he said, especially in Gary, where the newer plant is still staffing up. About 30 people work at the Medina operation, while only about 10 work in Gary so far. But that plant may soon employ as many or more as the Medina site, Surane said.
Romero said Vexor likely isn't done building this business, either. The company is talking to potential partners about constructing more plants, he said. Each plant needs to be in an area where it can access an ample waste stream. A location near packaging industry participants works well, Romero said. Each site also needs to be near a dedicated partner that will use the fuel, he added.
"We've looked at three to four options, and right now we're looking in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest" regions, Romero said.
If all goes well, the company will have opened two new plants in the next two years, Romero said.