Idaho firm says plasma is "ultimate solution" to CRT crisis

Idaho firm says plasma is "ultimate solution" to CRT crisis

By Bobby Elliott, E-Scrap News

April 18, 2014

A plasma company located in southern Idaho has built two facilities that could start processing significant streams of CRT glass by the middle of next year.

Mike Mills, the CEO of Recovered Energy, told E-Scrap News the company plans to use a plasma method to process up to 120,000 tons of CRT glass per year between two facilities -- one in Pocatello, Idaho, where the company is headquartered, and another in Palm Harbor, Florida.

The company says the facilities will each operate six days per week and will be able to handle 200 tons of glass per day. The facilities cost a total of $52 million to plan and build, not including real estate costs, according to the company.

"We've put a lot of money into this process to make sure it works and I believe we have the ultimate solution," Mills told E-Scrap News.

And what will Recovered Energy be charging firms to take on CRT loads? According to Mills, current pricing by Recovered Energy is "comparable" to pricing of glass destined for India's Videocon, the largest processor of U.S. CRT glass in operation.

Mills said while the process may have the same end-goal as a more traditional lead smelter — successfully separating lead from glass — plasma technology is a unique application.

Operating in an oxygen-starved environment, plasma, which is often referred to as a "fourth state of matter" and can be as hot as 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, "breaks everything down to an elemental state," Mills said. "Once the bonds are broken, you can separate the lead and all the other oxides out to make sure you have clean [lead-free] glass."

Mills added the plasma will be heated only to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure the lead originally contained in the glass does not gasify.

Plasma has long been investigated for use in innovation. U.S. researchers first began researching the technology in the 1960s, and some e-scrap companies have previously looked into ways to use the technology to possibly recover a wide range of valuable materials, including rare earths.

Linda McFarland, former VP of business development at 5R Processors, said that company investigated CRT glass processing using plasma "dating back to 2011," but found the method was too costly of an investment for too small of a return for the company.

McFarland, now an executive at IMS Electronics Recycling, suggested Recovered Energy could process other materials as well. While costly, one advantage of plasma processing is that it can work on a "batch" system, allowing a company – in theory – to also process other types of e-scrap in intermittent batches. "That could be what they're banking on," McFarland said.

Mills, however, says his company plans to process only CRT glass for the next 10 years using a continuous feed system. Running a batch system while processing 200 tons of glass per day, Mills says, is "impossible."

He said when the U.S. CRT glass supply begins to wane the facilities could be used to process medical waste.

Recovered Energy has begun accepting CRT glass at the Idaho and Florida facilities from about 16 suppliers and is in the process of obtaining complete permitting from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and Florida Environmental Protection Agency. The Idaho facility houses both separation and plasma operations, while the Florida facility will use an off-site plasma hub "half of a mile away," Mills said.

The company goal, according to Mills, is to get both plasma operations fully operational by the middle of 2015, selling recovered lead and donating de-leaded glass to various municipalities.

Mills says plans are also in the works to build similar plasma CRT glass processing facilities in Arizona and Ohio.

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