Do you, like most people, find yourself taking trash out to the garbage can on a daily basis? Do you often think, “How does a family create so much trash?”
What if we could recycle consumer waste products back into the same consumer products; or better yet, turn them into something that would help feed the world?
Thankfully, these thoughts are not just pipe dreams. In North Alabama there is an innovative company, Applied Chemical Technology (ACT), which helps clients develop new processes and products. Since 1981, ACT has tested thousands of ideas across multiple industries including agriculture, power generation, chemicals, and more. This wealth of broad experience means that ACT has the expertise to implement novel approaches and to identify opportunities where others see only challenges.
Recently, ACT teamed up with a company to do exactly what so many have desired, convert a harmful consumer waste product into something useful by recovering marketable minerals that can be used as fertilizer, animal feed, or even recycled back into production of the same consumer product. The possible benefits of this development work were extremely appealing to the company that approached ACT for many reasons, some of which are listed below.
Benefits of Mineral Recovery from a Waste Stream
- Recovery of mineral products to sell
- Converting an existing harmful waste into one safe to dispose
- Reducing the quantity of waste to dispose
- Reducing environmental liability
- Reducing disposal costs
Phases of Development for Mineral Recovery Project
But how does someone take an idea and develop it into a successful commercial process? To better understand the answer to this question, let’s look at the development work conducted for the Mineral Recovery Project.
Development work takes time and money with no guarantee of success. For this reason, the work is typically performed in phases. By working in phases, the costs for development can be carefully controlled and time allowed between phases to consider the benefits and risks of continuing the work. For the Mineral Recovery Project, the following phases of the development were planned:
- Feasibility Phase
- Pilot Testing Phase
- Preliminary Engineering of Commercial System
- Detail Engineering of Commercial Plant
- Fabrication and Construction of Commercial Plant
- Installation and Commissioning of Commercial Plant
Feasibility Phase – 3 months
The first phase of the development process for the mineral recovery project included two stages, Bench Testing and Preliminary Economics.
Bench Testing Stage– 2 months
During this stage, approximately 50 tests were performed in the laboratory on 250-500 g batches. There tests were designed to provide initial data and information for each of the following:
- Major steps and materials required for the process
- Identification of materials recovered by the process
- Quantification of the expected level of recovery of each mineral
- Measurement of the quality of the recovered materials
- Measurement of parameters and chemical controls as data for the next stage of development
- Identification of several options for best recovery
Preliminary Economics Stage– 1 month
From the information gained from the Bench Testing, the main components for a continuous/integrated process were identified and an initial rough design was made for a pilot plant. Using this design and data from the Bench Testing, initial estimates were then made of the cost of equipment and materials to extract minerals, the cost to run the process, and the value of the products produced by the mineral recovery process on a commercial scale. Further, the cost savings in waste disposal and liabilities were estimated as well.
Result: Based on the Bench Testing and Preliminary Economics, the technology was expected to be both chemically effective and economically promising. As a result, work began toward the next phase of the process.
Pilot Testing Phase – 4 months
The Pilot Testing Phase provides invaluable information during the development process. For the Mineral Recovery Project, this phase was made up of two stages: Pilot Plant Design/Construction and Pilot Plant Operation and was designed for the following:
- Conversion from a batch process to a continuous process
- Demonstration of the process steps/techniques on a larger scale
- Narrowing the process options to the one providing best recovery
- Improvement to previous data for process parameters of the commercial plant
- Improvement of process efficiency and chemical controls
- Identification of pitfalls and solutions to those pitfalls
- Production of products for testing potential markets
- Refining of data for projecting commercial plant costs and potential values
Pilot Plant Design/Construction – 1 month
In this stage, the engineering design of the pilot plant was produced based on data collected from the Feasibility Phase of the development work. The plant was designed as a continuous process with a 5 pound/hour feed rate and with plans of setting up, conducting, and evaluating one test per day.
Pilot Plant Operation – 3 months
The pilot plant operated for approximately three months and in general the process and equipment functioned to the planned design with very few changes. During the operation, many successes were achieved including:
- Narrowing the process options to the one that gave the best recovery
- Production of three different valuable products
- 9-Fold reduction of the waste stream requiring disposal
- Converting harmful waste to material safe for landfill disposal
- Improved process efficiency
- Improved chemical controls
With the overwhelming success of the Pilot Plant Phase, the project moved to the next phase, Preliminary Engineering.
Preliminary Engineering Phase of Commercial System – 2 months
For this phase of the development, the data from the pilot plant was used to update the first commercial plant design and produce a new preliminary design. With the updated economics for the plant and the information on products, product quality, waste disposal, utility needs, plant personnel needs, etc.; projections were then made of the overall economics for the commercial plant.
To date, the mineral recovery process has been extremely successful with an expected payback period for a commercial plant of less than three years.
Not only does the newly developed process show outstanding commercialization opportunity, it promises a real step toward reducing environmental waste. A single commercial plant is projected in one year to reduce 26,000 tons of waste to a tenth of that amount.
So the next step is Detail Engineering of the commercial plant in preparation for the client to receive bids for construction and installation. With continued success, we will reap the benefits of a harmful waste stream no longer reaching our landfills.
Find out more about the development services offered at ACT.