Aside from the few tyres that are turned into park swings or are ground up for soccer ground surfaces, most tyres from Australian cars and trucks go to waste or are exported overseas to be turned into fuel.
But Australian company Green Distillation Technologies has found a new way of “cleanly” turning old tyres into carbon, steel and oil, and has plans for its second commercial facility in Toowoomba in southern Queensland.
Known as destructive distillation, tyres are heated in a sealed airless chamber where they are melted down into different compounds, one of which is collected and condensed into “manufactured” oil. Once the process is complete, carbon and steel can also be extracted.
The Melbourne-based company is already testing production in its Warren, New South Wales-based production facility, and expects to build another plant in Toowoomba in Queensland next year.
Green Distillation Technologies chief operating officer Trevor Bayley said that the company’s process is in line with today’s environmental expectations of a circular economy.
He also said the volume of valuable recyclable material produced is “impressive” with “a typical 10 kilograms car tyre yielding 4 litres of oil, 4 kilograms of carbon, and 2 kilograms of steel.”
The company believes around one million tyres need to be recycled in the Toowoomba region each year, and the proposed plant will be capable of processing more than half of those used tyres – a mix of about 700,000 car and truck tyres annually.
The company is currently in talks with social enterprise Ability Enterprises, which helps people experiencing barriers to employment to find jobs, to supply employees for a tyre collection transport service.
Leftover tyres are an ecological disaster
Tyres pose a major environmental problem due to the sheer volume that need to be recycled – with roughly one end of life tyre generated per person in Australia – and because existing recycling channels are not particularly easy on the planet.
Some tyres are turned into crumbs or flakes to be made into a surface for sporting fields and playgrounds. However, the majority are exported for use as tyre derived fuel in China, Vietnam and India. This process releases noxious greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The remaining tyres in Australia are legally or illegally dumped. If they end up in bushland and waterways, they can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes after it rains and a source of diseases as Dengue and Ross River Fever.