Pyrolysis of scrap tires offers an environmentally and economically attractive method for transforming waste tires into useful products, heat and electrical energy. Pyrolysis refers to the thermal decomposition of scrap tires either in the absence or lack of oxygen. The principal feedstocks for pyrolysis are pre-treated car, bus or truck tire chips. Scrap tires are an excellent fuel because of their high calorific value which is comparable to that of coal and crude oil. The heating value of an average size passenger tire is between 30 – 34MJ/kg.
Pyrolysis is the most recommended alternative for the thermochemical treatment of waste tires and extensively used for conversion of carbonaceous materials in Europe and the Asia-Pacific. Pyrolysis is a two-phase treatment which uses thermal decomposition to heat the rubber in the absence of oxygen to break it into its constituent parts, e.g., pyrolysis oil (or bio oil), synthetic gas and char. Cracking and post-cracking take place progressively as the material is heated to 450-500°C and above.
The pyrolysis method for scrap tires recycling involves heating whole or halved or shredded tires in a reactor containing an oxygen free atmosphere and a heat source. In the reactor, the rubber is softened after which the rubber polymers disintegrate into smaller molecules which eventually vaporize and exit from the reactor. These vapors can be burned directly to produce power or condensed into an oily type liquid, called pyrolysis oil or bio oil.
Some molecules are too small to condense and remain as a gas which can be burned as fuel. The minerals that were part of the tire, about 40% by weight, are removed as a solid. When performed well a tire pyrolysis process is a very clean operation and has nearly no emissions or waste.
The heating rate of tire is an important parameter affecting the reaction time, product yield, product quality and energy requirement of the waste tire pyrolysis process. If the temperature is maintained at around 450oC the main product is liquid which could be a mixture of hydrocarbon depending on the initial composition of waste material. At temperature above 700oC, synthetic gas (also known as syngas), a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, becomes the primary product due to further cracking of the liquids.
The nature of the feedstock and process conditions defines the properties of the gas, liquid and solid products. For example, whole tires contain fibers and steel while shredded tires have most of the steel and sometimes most of the fiber removed.
Processes can be either batch or continuous. The energy required for thermal decomposition of the scrap tires can be in the form of directly-fired fuel, electrical induction and or by microwaves (like a microwave oven). A catalyst may also be required to accelerate the pyrolysis process.
The high acceptance of pyrolysis for the treatment of scrap tires is due to the fact that the derived oils and syngas can be used as biofuels or as feedstock for refining crude oil or chemical products. The pyrolysis oil (or bio oil) has higher calorific value, low ash, low residual carbon and low sulphur content.
The use of pyrolysis oil in cement kilns, paper mills, power plants, industrial furnaces, foundries and other industries is one of the best uses of scrap tires. Pyrolysis of scrap tyres produces oil that can be used as liquid fuels for industrial furnaces, foundries and boilers in power plants due to their higher calorific value, low ash, residual carbon and sulphur content.
The solid residue, called char, contains carbon black, and inorganic matter. It contains carbon black and the mineral matter initially present in the tire. This solid char may be used as reinforcement in the rubber industry, as activated carbon or as smokeless fuel.
Recommended Reading: Environmental Impact of Tire Recycling