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Tire-Derived Fuel

Tire-Derived Fuel Frequent Questions

Background: Tire chips were used as a blended fuel at the Utilicorp United Power Plant in Sibley, MO. Visit Missouri’s Division of Environmental Quality Exit EPA for more information.

Background | Cement Industry | Pulp and Paper Industry | Electric Utilities | Industrial/Institutional Boilers | Dedicated Tire-To-Energy Facilities


Scrap tires are used as fuel because of their high heating value. Using scrap tires is not recycling, but is considered a beneficial use — it is better to recover the energy from a tire rather than landfill it. In 2003, 130 million scrap tires were used as fuel (about 45% of all generated) — up from 25.9 million (10.7% of all generated) in 1991.

Tires can be used as fuel either in shredded form - known as tire-derived fuel (TDF) — or whole, depending on the type of combustion device. Scrap tires are typically used as a supplement to traditional fuels such as coal or wood. Generally, tires need to be reduced in size to fit in most combustion units. Besides size reduction, use of TDF may require additional physical processing, such as de-wiring.

There are several advantages to using tires as fuel:

EPA supports the highest and best practical use of scrap tires in accordance with the waste management hierarchy, in order of preference: reduce, reuse, recycle, waste-to-energy, and disposal in an appropriate facility. Disposal of scrap tires in tire piles is not an acceptable management practice because of the risks posed by tire fires, and because tire piles can provide habitats for disease vectors, such as mosquitoes.

In 2003, more than 290 million scrap tires were generated in the US. Nearly 100 million of these tires were recycled into new products and 130 million were reused as tire-derived fuel (TDF) in various industrial facilities. TDF is one of several viable alternatives to prevent newly generated scrap tires from inappropriate disposal in tire piles, and for reducing or eliminating existing tire stockpiles.

Based on over 15 years of experience with more than 80 individual facilities, EPA recognizes that the use of tire-derived fuels is a viable alternative to the use of fossil fuels. EPA testing shows that TDF has a higher BTU value than coal. The Agency supports the responsible use of tires in portland cement kilns and other industrial facilities, so long as the candidate facilities: (1) have a tire storage and handling plan; (2) have secured a permit for all applicable state and federal environmental programs; and (3) are in compliance with all the requirements of that permit.

This information is also contained in a printable fact sheet on TDF (PDF) (1 pg, 12K, about PDF)

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Cement Industry

Scrap Tire Fuel Use by Industry

Of the 130 million scrap tires used as fuel per year:

–Rubber Manufacturers Association, 2004

About 53 million tires per year are consumed as fuel in US cement kilns. The cement industry burns scrap tires as fuel in kilns used to make clinker—a primary component of portland cement. A cement kiln is basically a large furnace in which limestone, clay, and shale are heated at extreme temperatures and a chemical reaction transforms them into clinker. Clinker is ground together with gypsum to form Portland cement.

The use of whole tires as kiln fuel is possible for some type of cement kilns. For these cement kilns, truck loads of whole tires, usually in enclosed vans, are delivered to the end of a conveyor. Tires are manually unloaded from the truck onto the conveyor. The conveyor feeds the tires to a mechanism that inserts one tire at a time into the kiln at specified time intervals. The advantage of utilizing whole tires is that there are no costs to create tire chips. The removal of the steel is unnecessary since cement kilns have a need for iron in their processes. Tire chips may also be utilized because there is very little manual labor involved in handling chips versus whole tires, however, producing chips from whole tires increase costs.

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Pulp and Paper Industry

About 26 million tires per year are consumed as fuel in boilers at US pulp and paper mills. Pulp and paper mills have large boilers which are used to supply energy for making paper. This energy is normally supplied by wood waste, however, wood varies substantially in heat values and moisture content, so the mills often supplement the wood fuel with other fuels,such as coal or oil, to make the operation more stable. TDF is also used in many plants as a supplement to the wood because of its high heat value and low moisture content.

The main problem in using TDF in the paper industry is the need to use de-wired tires. The wires often clog the feed systems. Also, the mills sometimes sell the resulting ash to farmers who require the ash to be free of iron. De-wired TDF can cost up to 50% more than regular TDF.

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Electric Utilities

About 24 million tires per year are consumed as fuel in boilers at electric utilities. In the electric utility industry, boilers typically burn coal to generate electricity. TDF is often used as a supplement fuel in electric utility boilers because of its higher heating value, lower NOx emissions, and competitive cost as compared to coal. However, only certain types of boilers are conducive to burning TDF.

Cyclone boilers are the most used of all the utility boilers for burning TDF. They are good because they require no changes to be made to the boiler itself which reduces the capital investment. Therefore, the only additional equipment needed is a conveyer to transport the tire pieces into the boiler. Cyclone boilers cannot accept whole tires which increases the cost of obtaining the fuel (the optimum size of the tire pieces is 1 inch x 1 inch and it must be de-wired). Stoker fired units are also economical. In the stoker boilers, the residence time of the fuel is longer so larger tire pieces can be used. The optimum size of these pieces is 2 inches square. This reduces the cost of obtaining the fuel for Cyclone boilers and makes it more economical.

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Industrial/Institutional Boilers

Approximately 17 million tires per year are consumed in industrial boilers.

According to a Rubber Manufacturers Association survey in 2004, 19 industrial facilities were using TDF in their boilers to supplement their fuel usage. Industrial boilers are smaller than utility boilers and typically use a variety of fuels. When utilizing TDF, tires are typically shredded. Not all boilers are compatible with TDF. Clumping and clogging are common and preclude the use of TDF in many facilities.

Another impediment is the metal in the tires — if not removed before combustion, it ends up in the ash and can create disposal problems. Each facility must evaluate the impact of TDF on their air emissions and ash disposal. Industrial facilities must apply for the appropriate permits from their state and/or local regulatory authorities before commencing operation.

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Dedicated Tire-To-Energy Facilities

Approximately 10 million tires per year are consumed as fuel at dedicated tire-to-energy facilities. A dedicated tire-to-energy facility is specifically designed to burn TDF as its only fuel to create energy.

According to a Rubber Manufacturers Association survey at the end of 2003, there was only one dedicated tire-to-energy facility operating in the US. The dedicated tire-to-energy facility, Exeter Energy Limited in Sterling, Connecticut burns mainly whole tires and consumes 10 million tires per year. This facility serves as a major scrap tire market for scrap tires in New York and northern New Jersey. The second dedicated tire-to-energy facility in the US is located in Ford Heights, Illinois and was not in operation at the end of 2003.

Even though dedicated tire-to-energy facilities have been demonstrated to achieve emission rates much lower than most solid fuel combustors, there are no known facilities under construction or consideration. The length of time and cost of construction, as well as the deregulation of the utility industry hinders further expansion of this industry.

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