One way to lessen the capital cost of hazardous waste management is to recycle the valuable constituents of such wastes for reuse, or blend them into fuel. Beyond the obvious economic benefit, recycling mitigates damage to the ecology by reducing the amount of materials requiring hazardous waste disposal; and fuel-blending has the added benefit of reducing fossil fuel consumption.
Recycling Waste vs. Fuel-Blending for Energy Recovery
For example, a post-manufacture cleansing process that uses acetone will yield a hazardous waste that contains the spent acetone along with the solute it removed (e.g. electroplating residues such as chrome or cadmium). Recovering the acetone by distillation and using it again for the same process (or something akin) is a simple case of recycling for energy recovery.
Contrast this with “fuel-blending,” a process the EPA says is “an important option for reducing petroleum consumption.” Although the thermal energy of the acetone cannot be adequately salvaged in isolation, it burns more efficiently when mixed with other fuels (e.g. gasoline); and the combination can then be used to power one or another industrial process.
You are likely familiar with the idea of fuel-blending from experience at your local gasoline pump. For example, you find so-called E-10 almost everywhere, which is ten percent ethanol. E-85 is 85 percent ethanol. B-2 is five percent biodiesel. There are others—and they are known as “on-spec” for meeting the purity and proportional requirements specified by the EPA.
Beware of “Off-Spec” Fuels
If there are “on-spec” fuels per the EPA, then you might guess there are fuels that are commensurately “off-spec,” and you would be correct. You must ensure that any fuel blend you receive from a distillery is on-spec for purity and being in the correct proportion.
For example, fuel burned for “legitimate energy recovery” must minimally yield 5,000 BTU per pound. Burning something that produces fewer than 5,000 BTU per pound might be considered an instance of illegal hazardous waste disposal, no matter its practical or economic benefit to your business or enterprise.
Selecting a Distilling Facility
The best commercial distilleries will first determine the compatibility of your hazardous waste with fuel-blending processes. They will then analyze those waste streams in order to blend fuels that precisely satisfy EPA regulations. And they will supply you with the required EPA regulatory paperwork to document your compliance with local, state, and federal regulations.
The Business Case for Fuel-Blending
The business case for fuel-blending is complicated by the economics and ecological impact of doing so. In the current example, there is the capital and environmental cost of getting the hazardous waste to the distillery to extract the acetone; the distillery will need to be paid for its services; the acetone has to make its way back to your business or enterprise; etc. All these exigencies must be compared against the cost of relatively simpler chemical disposal.
Recycling and fuel-blending can be viable alternatives to hazardous waste disposal, but the capital costs of hazmat management, pickup, transit, and distilling costs—along with copious regulatory requirements—must be factored into your ultimate decision.
As in all things EPA… expert advice is crucial.