Oil shale substitute to be provided by Ragn-Sells tire recycling plant

Discarded tires.
Discarded tires. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Waste disposal firm Ragn-Sells AS says it plans to set up a tire-shredding plant, probably in Lääne-Viru County, to dispose of discarded rubber whose by-product would be oils to be used at Enefit Power plants. This by-product would be used in lieu of oil shale.

The development also relates to the final alleviation of a major tire dump on the outskirts of Tartu.

The process used to transform the tires into a usable raw material is known as pyrolysis, though an environmental board spokesperson also raised concerns over the environmental impact of this practice.

Tire importers meanwhile have set up a new producer responsibility organization, which would collect used tires due to be shredded, as they say they are not satisfied with the Rehviringlus, the organization currently tasked with recycling tires.

Veljo Aleksandrov, project director at state-owned generator Eesti Energia, said that Enefit Power, an Eesti Energia subsidiary, is gradually transitioning away from the oil shale sector to the chemicals sector as a source of fuel, which means more discarded tires, plastic and other refuse will be used as a raw material.

Around half of the input from discarded tires which are utilized by Enefit Power should originate from Ragn-Sells, with the remaining half coming from outside Estonia, and Enefit Power says it hopes to start production of shale oil from abroad from this year,

The Ragn-Sells tire shredding facility should be up and running in early 2024.

Around 15,000 tonnes of discarded tires are disposed of in Estonia per year; a large proportion of this would be utilized by the Ragn-Sells facility to produce the by-product which in turn Enefit Power can derive fuel from.

Rainer Pesti, Ragn-Sells business development manager, said that the tire shredding facility will likely be located in Lääne-Viru County, for example, at the Lepna recycling center. 

The facility will cost nearly two million euros to set up, Pesti added.

Any metal components are removed from tires ruing the process which is immediately recycled. The remainder would then be reduced to granules and sent to Enefit Power.

Estonian Tyre Recycling, a non-profit organization, founded by three major tire importers, Tirestar, Rehvid Pluss and Baltyre, will be responsible for getting the discarded tires to the new Ragn-Sells plant, when it is up and running.

Tire makers or importers will pay that organization a fee to collect their discards; current law in any case forbids the disposal of used tires in landfills.

Estonian Tyre Recycling will compete with the existing service provider MTÜ Rehviringlus, which up to now had had a monopoly in the sector.

Estonian Tyre Recycling board member Marek Moorus, who is also a co-owner of Tirestar, said that Rehviringlus' activities had been too closed and opaque. 

Nevertheless, Rehviringlus must pay the state nearly €900,000 after the latter cleared a former military airfield of Raadi of old tires which Rehviringlus had amassed.

Einar Teesalu, board member at Rehviringlus, rejected Moorus' claims that the company's operations were closed or opaque, adding that the organization has always been ready to answer the requests from importers; the state's claim is also not justified, he said, adding that four years ago the organization already won an administrative court case on the same issue.

Having to pay tire handling costs would not mean Rehviringlus could not continue its activities, Teesalu added.

Environment Board spokesperson: Burying tires is more environmentally friendly than turning them into fuel oil

Despite the ban on landfill sites for tires, the practice had been going on in Tartu; "Burying tires is as good as drowning them in the sea. Many international organizations still have so much responsibility towards the community and the environment that such solutions do not satisfy them," Marek Moorus said.

However, Rehviringlus also reuses tires to produce tire blocks, which can be used as filler material instead of sand or gravel, for example, in road construction or in the construction of protective embankments.

Meanwhile Reet Siilaberg, head of the Circular Economy Department at the Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet), said that burying the tires underground is, nonetheless, still more environmentally friendly than Ragn-Sells and Enefit Power's plan.

Pyrolysis involves burning the tires at temperature sof nearly 500C, which both uses energy and pollutes; shredding also uses up more energy than burying, Siilaberg said.

Ultimately the most environmentally-friendly way to recycle tires is to retread them and reuse them on a vehicle.

Nearly a tenth of used tires were retreaded and reentered circulation this way, in 2022, ERR reports.

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Editor: Johannes Voltri, Andrew Whyte

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