"My full time job is turning wate into a resource," begins George Martin, Vice President, Technology Development. "That's what is best for the environment, and it's how we differentiate ourselves from the competition. It's the right thing to do.
"Veolia has about thirty employees devoted to developing programs for recycling and reuse of waste materials. Right now, we are actively working on up to ten initiaties, which are all market opportunities to develop new technologies or new solutions for our clients."
A brief description of each of the initiatives follows.
Veolia is using waste from a variety of sources - pharmaceutical, biotech, consumer products, healthcare and beauty products - to recover ethanol. There is also research in progress within the industry on cellulosic ethanol sources.
Syngas is produced through the gasification of organic waste materials. The produced syngas contains carbon monoxide and hydrogen. It is a combustible gas that has about one-fourth the energy of natural gas and is most commonly used as a substitute fuel or the hydrogen is separated and is used by refineries for making clean energy fuels. Veolia is looking at gasification as a technology for future solutions to turn organic waste back into useful products. Once the correct carbon monoside/hydrogen ratio is achieved, any organic material can be turned back into basic organic building blocks, or separated to produce tonnage hydrogen.
Hydrotreating is a process involving a reaction of hydrocarbons with hydrogen to remove impurities from teh crude oil or other refinery products. The reaction is facilitated by a catalyst, which is created by impregnating an alumina substrate with 10% to 12% molybdenum and 3% to 4% of either nickel or cobalt. The moly oxide is then extracted from spent catalyst from hydrotreating and is sold as a product to the steel industry where it is combined with iron to make steel. Molybdenum's value is between $8 and $25/pound. Veolia's incineration facilities have permits to store the spent catalyst, which is considered hazardous waste (K171 and K172). If it is recycled, however, it is removed from the hazardous waste category.
Veolia processes copper and tin bearing sludges into products that we sell as ore-like materials to the smelters. We are expanding these processes to be able to treat chlorides or hydrochloric acid/metal bearing materials to recover magnesium chloride solution, which is used on highways for deicing. "We are selling the magnesium chloride to a wholesaler who sells it to state highway maintenance agencies," explains Martin. "We also process electronic scrap from computers and printers. We plan to use selective extraction to separate the different metals contained in this material, which increases their value back into industry."
Useful organic solvents are being recovered from waste materials at Veolia's five solvent recovery operations. A new column is being planned at the Colorado facility. This location also has a liquid/liquid extractor, which helps to separate two organic chemicals. "If you add a third liquid that one of the chemicals is attracted to more than they are attracted to each other, you can break them apart." notes Martin, "We're working on a chemical process for the longer term that utilizes distillation to recover useful organic solvents." Our Ohio locatin features a molecular sieve, which separates water from organic solvents and alcohols, increasing their value.
The technology of lithium metal and lithium ion batteries, the rechargeable batteries, is being developed as the likely application for electric cars. It's important to exctract useful metals and render the batteries harmless; lithium batteries can be a fire hazard. A subsidiary of Veolia in France is working on this project on a small scale. The timeline is approximately two or three years for commerical application in the US.
Veolia is the largest recycler of fluorescent lamps in the United States. We crush the bulbs and separate them into metals, glass and phosphor powder, which is put through a retort to extract themercury in the powder. Today, the phosphor powder goes to a solid waste landfill, but there are significant amounts of rare earth metals in the phosphor powder, which could be recovered. Rare earth metals are used in the manufacturing of new phosphors used to produce new lamps as well as in small, lightweight high strength magnets required in many electronics applications. These metals are found in minute quantities all over the world. Over 95% of the commercially available rare earth metals come from China today.
The use of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) is becoming more and more prevalent, because they use 1/3 the power to provide the same amount of light as incandescent lamps. CFLs contain mercury-bearing phosphor powder. "If we can develop a way to extract rare earth metals from phosphor powder," begins Martin, "it would be a terrific source for the future of this industry."