Japan: Creating Better Steel, Integrated Energy & Recovered Resources from Waste Tires

Organizations Consulted: Nippon Steel, Hirohata City, Japanese Automobile Tire Manufacturers Association, Several Tire Recyclers

The Challange:

As Japan recovered from World War II, the country significantly advanced its manufacturing capacities and the domestic production of tires rapidly increased in parallel with full-fledged motorization in the 1960s which resulted in the production of 64 million new tires per year. By 1970 the production of new tires had risen sharply to over 124 million new tires every year. This created a massive amount of scrap tires which created an environmental burden in less than a decade and it needed a solution. In 1960, Japan saw the production of 22 million scrap tires being created as waste, and this number jumped to over 41 million by 1970. This trend continues as waste tire volumes increase from 360,000TPA to over 1,000,000TPA by the year 2000, posing a serious problem related to the preservation of the environment. This problem prompted a social need for waste tire recycling in Japan. 

The Solution:

With the diversification of economic activities and consumer's daily lives in recent years, an increase in the amount of waste discharged has become a serious global environmental issue. With the intention of preserving the living environment, the Japanese Government has also been taking necessary measures, for example, to revise the Waste Disposal Law so that waste can be controlled and recycled and that the appropriate disposal can be promoted.

In this context, the Hirohata Ironworks of the Nippon Steel Corporation has been using cut waste tires amounting to a little over 5,000 metric tonnes per month for its Scrap Melting Process ("SMP") as a substitute for part of the coal and iron scraps since 1999. More concretely, when cut waste tires are charged into the SMP, the steel cords contained in the scarp tires are melted and recycled into steel, while the carbon contained in the rubber is utilized as a component of melted pig iron. Furthermore, the waste tires gasified as a substitute for coal and are utilized as a heat source for melting steel along with using the hydrogen-rich gas that is extracted as an energy source in the ironworks plant. 

It is the most important problem for the continual expansion of the Japanese economy that we abandon the type of economy based on large-scale production, consumption, and waste and that we construct for our economy a circulatory system comprising the theme of 3R's, (namely reduce, reuse and recycle). Nippon Steel's Hirohata Works is playing a part by using less than 5% of the waste tires that are discarded all across Japan.

The greatest task for humanity is to sustain the growth of our economy in the 21st century and to discover how to emerge from an economy that has been dominated by mass production, mass consumption, and mass disposal since the middle of the 20th century. In other words, it is urgently required to "structure a recycling-oriented society". Under these circumstances, Hirohata Works was created where a system of collecting scrap tires from all over the country has been established which is thereby responding to the social need of utilizing a large number of waste tires effectively. In the future, the promotion and utilization of recycled waste tires will become more obvious to the other countries outside of Japan in terms of using scrap tires as a great resource for the generation of low-cost fuels and that also reduce carbon emissions from a CO2e lifecycle perspective.  

Benefits Realized:

The end result is the preservation of finite resources through the production of the following sustainable commodities (approximate volume):

  • +70,000 TPA of scrap tires recycled
  • +7 million waste tires recycled a year
  • 100's of job created in a region that requires economic development
  • 87% of recovered resource consumed internally
  • 13% of recovered resources used as self-sustaining fuel
  • 22,000 TPA of recovered coke for steel making
  • 25,000 TPA of fuel oil
  • 9,0000 TPA of steel
  • 200,000 TPA of Carbon Dioxide emission offset