GCC Rio Grande has a proposal to turn tire waste in New Mexico into fuel for its cement plant, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

The Tijeras, N.M., plant plans to seek permits to become the first plant in the state to use tire-derived fuel. When done in a controlled environment, the fuel produces no odor, visible smoke or harmful effects on air quality.

Forty-eight cement plants across the country operate with tire-derived fuel, according to the Portland Cement Association. The Tijeras plant’s sister plant in Pueblo, Colo., began burning tires a few weeks ago.

If operating at 100 percent – hopefully in one to two years – Doug Roark, vice president of energy and environment for GCC Rio Grande, expects the Tijeras plant to use 1.5 million tires annually. As a waste product, tires are usually cheaper than raw materials such as coal, he added, making the change cost-effective for the plant.

GCC in Tijeras burns 66,000 tons of coal every year between two kilns, Roark said, but if the plant substitutes up to 20 percent of that with tires, it could replace 19,000 tons of coal with 15,000 tons of tires.

“It’s a very high-quality fuel. When burned in a controlled environment, it has more fuel value than coal would have,” said Roark. “Typically four tons of tires would replace five tons of coal. It actually burns at a lower carbon greenhouse gas emission rate than what coal burns at.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cleared the usage, coming out in support of “the responsible use of tires in portland cement kilns and other industrial facilities, so long as the candidate facilities: 1) have a tire storage and handling plan; 2) have secured a permit for all applicable state and federal environmental programs; and 3) are in compliance with all the requirements of that permit,” according to a fact sheet released by the agency.

Saul Alvidrez, plant manager at GCC Rio Grande in Tijeras, said the operation can easily adapt to tire-derived fuel, and the only new equipment needed is for handling the tires; otherwise the production process will remain exactly the same.

The Tijeras plant must notify neighborhood associations within the area and hold meetings for public comment prior to updating the Title V operating permit, said Isreal Tavarez, environmental health manager for the Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department. Then the plant must demonstrate it will keep emissions within EPA guidelines.

Joseph Ellis, manager of the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority, has embraced the concept for the possibilities it could hold for Torrance County.

“EVSWA has been working with GCC on an arrangement whereby the landfill would be a staging depot for tires from all over the state,” said Ellis. “Some of them have to be de-rimmed, cleaned, cut and then delivered to GCC in Tijeras on a just-in-time basis for their use in the kilns.”

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