Sims Ltd., the Australia-based parent company of Sims Metal and other scrap recycling firms operating in Australia, North America and the United Kingdom, is researching technology to convert the nonmetallic portion of auto shredder residue (ASR) into a synthesis gas (syngas) product.
In recent reports and presentations to investors, Sims has referred to the establishment of a pilot plant in Rocklea, Australia, near Brisbane, that will allow the company to conduct research into its ASR-to-syngas technology and assess its viability.
The Rocklea project is being developed under the Sims Resource Renewal brand, according to Trevor Stolz, program director at the new subsidiary. He tells Recycling Today the “proposed pilot facility will be a small research and development facility that will enable us to test the commercial viability of our technology and the development of new products from the material left over following our metal recycling process.”
On its website, Sims describes the plasma gasification technology being piloted as a process that “heats the ASR and transforms it into a mixture of clean gases known as syngas. A "glass-like" product also is created. Importantly this technology does not burn ASR and does not produce the types of problematic emissions that some older forms of technology can create.”
A graphic prepared by Sims Ltd. shows the syngas being converted into olefins that can help produce recycled-content plastic. The inorganic byproduct fraction, described as “glass-like” by Sims, is portrayed as being suitable as a paving material aggregate.
Although the company has made investors aware of the Rocklea project in the early part of this decade, Stolz says the research timeline is a somewhat lengthy one. A mass rollout of any Sims Resource Renewal technology may not be ready until 2030.
“The proposed pilot facility in Rocklea is currently in the early stages of design and development, and we have submitted our development application to Brisbane City Council,” says Stolz. “If successful, the pilot facility will be operational in 2022,” he says of the development application process.
Monitoring the results of the Rocklea pilot plant will be the critical first step, according to the company. “It is envisaged that we will require 12 to 24 months of research and development prior to consideration of a commercial facility,” says Stolz. “The highly controlled research and development we are proposing will enable us to test the commercial viability of developing new products from the ASR [that] currently goes to landfill.”
The potential is there for Sims Resource Renewal to join Sims Metal and Sims Lifecycle Services (electronics recycling) in the multinational company’s portfolio of subsidiaries.
“Sims Resource Renewal was established by Sims Ltd. to help close the loop on its own waste, which will allow us to deliver on our shared purpose: create a world without waste to preserve our planet,” says Stolz. “Our aim is to transform more than 1 million metric tons of ASR into new, useful products for society by 2030.”
Stolz describes the current Sims Ltd. metals and electronics recycling operations as being responsible in 2020 for diverting 9 million metric tons of material from landfills. “This is equivalent to reusing and recycling 1.2 million garbage trucks of material,” he comments.
For auto shredder operators, ASR carries a cost in terms of environmental compliance measures and landfill disposal fees. Corporate customers and governments, likewise, are seeking alternatives to landfilling.
Says Stolz, “Sims Limited is always seeking new ways to work with partners, communities and customers to keep resources in use for as long as possible and create products that will advance the global circular economy.”
He also says the technology will have to prove its feasibility if Sims Ltd. is to underwrite it in a significant way. “We are committed to a disciplined capital management approach and ensuring that new capital investments fit with our strategy and purpose, as well as meeting minimum hurdle requirements,” states Stolz.
For the next several years, it appears Rocklea will serve as a site for Sims to study the viability of plasma gasification technology designed to handle ASR. Sims describes ASR on its website as consisting of ”plastics, fabrics, insulation, foam, rubber and wood.”
Should the years of R&D result in an advance in ASR treatment, Stolz says, “The pilot facility in Rocklea will allow us to establish Sims Resource Renewal facilities around the world by 2030, including in the United Kingdom and the United States.”