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Plastics recycler targets US blast furnace mart

Aug 23, 2013 | 04:02 PM |

Tags  International Recycling Group, LLC, IRD, plastic recycling, waste plastic, NURRC LLC, acquisition, reducing agent blast furnace feed

NEW YORK — A New York state plastics recycling company is developing what it describes as the first plastics-based reducing agent for blast furnace (BL) use by integrated steel mills in the United States.

Pound Ridge, N.Y.-based International Recycling Group LLC (IRG) announced Aug. 23 that it had acquired global plastics recycler NURRC LLC’s sole U.S. facility in Spartanburg, S.C., to convert "previously unmarketable plastic" into a low-cost reducing agent for blast furnaces, which typically use metallurgical coal as a reducing agent. The company plans to build what it calls the "world’s largest plastic recycling facility" in the Midwest.

While the Spartanburg facility will be used to generate recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic for consumers such as Coca-Cola Co., other plastics collected at the site will be sent to its Midwest facility to produce the reducing agent.

"This will be the first time this process is implemented in the Unites States. However, it is used by steel producers in Europe and Asia as an environmentally-responsible alternative to land-filling plastic," IRG said. "Historically, low coal costs made its use impractical in the U.S. ... the situation is different today. With the changing dynamics of fossil fuel pricing globally, IRG believes the time is right for a process that is both environmentally beneficial as well as more cost-effective than fossil fuel alternatives like pulverized coal injection (PCI) and natural gas."

According to company founder Mitch Hecht, former chief financial officer of International Steel Group (ISG), one steel producer in Japan and two in Europe use a similar plastics-based reducing agent. He noted, however, that IRG’s product "will be the first plastic supply specifically designed for consistent BTU, low chlorine and low tramp elements,"

"Nobody in the world is making a product engineered specifically for steelmaking out of waste plastic," Hecht claimed. "There is no consistency to the plastics being used in the three mills that use some plastic. Ours is a dedicated, standardized product for steelmaking."

Feeding the reducing agent into the blast furnace will require the construction of specialized injection towers adjacent to the ironmaker at a cost said to be "a fraction of that needed for a PCI system."

Asked if the material would create more emissions than coke, Hecht said plastic is cleaner than coal because it is a hydrocarbon and therefore contains less carbon dioxide than coke.

"(It) lowers greenhouse gases by up to 30 percent. In a blast furnace, carcinogenic agents cannot exist because of the zero-oxygen environment and high temperature," he said.

Hecht said the company has secured at least one customer in the U.S., attracted a lot of interest from European and Asian steelmakers and has the "necessary contracts in place to start construction by the first quarter of next year."

He expects the product to come to market in 2015 at a price that will be competitive with PCI and natural gas.

"It can replace coke by roughly 1:1 and there’s a permanent supply of it. We’ll be preventing so much waste plastic from going to the landfills and we can hedge the product since it is waste. So we can offer fixed-price, long-term contracts to steel mills. This is a profound development," he said.

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