Taking the Next Steps
CHZ Technologies plans to bring its Thermolyzer technology to the United States within the next two years. The company is working with ORNL on a lab-size (2.5 to 4-ton) Thermolyzer that will be optimized for composites. “They have lots of different materials that that they want to work with and test,” says Ludwig.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been watching these experiments closely. Violent hurricanes over the last few years have left about 800,000 boats damaged or destroyed, and there are very few places to dispose of them. Since most have composite hulls and interior cabins, the Thermolyzer process might offer a solution. “The fact that the boats have some metal and wood doesn’t matter; we could end up processing that and recover the glass or carbon fiber that’s used and keep it out of the landfills,” says Ludwig.
CHZ is getting ready to supply a Thermolyzer to a plant in Youngstown, Ohio, as well. “We have a relationship with Youngstown State University, which has a renewable recycling curriculum,” says Ludwig. “We would like to put in an R&D center to do the testing near the university. It could be a place where we can train young men and women who are going into the recycling industry.”
The power industry has expressed interest, too. Utilities not only have end-of-life wind blades that they need to dispose of, but also electric poles that contain toxic chemicals. The Thermolyzer could reduce the poles to a renewable natural gas and biochar. With further research, the gas could be converted into other products, such as green ammonia or liquid fuels. There would be enough gas produced not only to power the recycling process, but also to help generate additional electricity. (Recycling composites takes more energy, so there’s no excess gas produced. For other materials, however, the Thermolyzer requires about 20% of the produced gas to run, leaving the remaining 80% for other uses.)
Ludwig says that as power companies convert their coal plants to natural gas, they could build a Thermolyzer on the plant property. The utilities could use it to keep their wind blades out of landfills and to create useful chemicals and gas from the poles, railroad ties, tires and plastics (even those from the ocean, which can’t normally be recycled). They’d be able to create an income stream by bringing in other materials, including composites, to be recycled as well.