In the middle of a former construction waste site about 26 miles north of downtown Raleigh stands what looks like a six giant turkey flyer.
However, these cylindrical gimmicks do not devour birds. Rather, they are part of a complex machine that is trying to turn old tires into reliable, cheaper forms of energy.
And if its owner, Product Recovery Technology International (PRTI), succeeds, these machines could be deployed nationwide.
PRTI calls this process “pyrolysis,” where the machine breaks down tires into oil, syngas, carbon char, and steel.
In the PRTI playbook, almost all of these products stay on Franklinton’s site and are used to power data centers that mine various cryptocurrencies 24 hours a day.
Cryptocurrencies have emerged all at once in the last decade. Just last year, the most popular bitcoin in digital currencies was Value has skyrocketed in the last year, And reached a high of over $ 60,000 per coin.
However, the energy produced by Franklinton can ultimately be used for many purposes.
“We started in a conservative way,” said a topical Englishman named Chris Hare, the company’s CEO. “But we believe we can demonstrate highly scalable technology.”
How to dispose of used tires
PRTI was launched in 2013 by Wayne Machon, who came across an Italian R & D project to bake tires to a certain temperature point rather than completely.
After retiring from a former executive in the semiconductor industry, Macon saw the potential and studied in Italy for six months whether to bring it back to the United States.
The urgent need for the product was clear to him. Disposing of used tires can be a major headache and annoyance.
Until the mid-1980s, most tires were simply thrown away by millions of people, said Morton Baraz, director of civil engineering and environmental engineering at North Carolina State University.
I couldn’t fill it because the tires trapped the air and went out to the surface. In addition, they could contaminate the soil while they were on the ground. So they were sometimes piled up on a mountain that resembled a small mountain.
“The problem with these dumps is that putting water in the tires makes them a breeding ground for mosquitoes,” Barlaz said in a telephone interview.
They were also in danger of a huge fire.
“And burning tires releases a lot of air pollutants and produces oils that can pollute groundwater.”
Every year Approximately 300 million scrap tires It is thrown away only in the United States. In 2019, about 76% of these tires were recycled into new products such as asphalt and “tire-derived fuels”. According to the American Tire Manufacturers Association..
Hair says there are still millions of tires left that need to be reused. “The key to the circular economy is how to turn someone’s trash into value,” said Rabbit. “This is a business that takes a terrible, terrible waste stream and uses it to do something economically beneficial.”
PRTI procures most tires from tire manufacturers in the state because the actual shipment to the facility is one of the biggest costs. Most of the tires we process are tires that do not meet sales standards. Since 2020, PRTI has partnered with Durham-based startup Spiffy to undertake scrap tires from on-demand automotive services. News & Observer reported..
The company now believes that it has improved the original Italian version of the machine to a reliable level.
Currently, each pyrolysis cylinder processes 6,000 pounds of tires at a time. It takes 11 hours to disassemble the tires and PRTI tries to run two cycles every day. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality granted the company an aviation permit in August 2020.
According to Hair, this process is automated by an algorithm that adjusts the temperature and length of each cycle according to the type of tire used. It helps keep labor needs low. The company currently employs about 20 people.
The current site has 6 chambers, but PRTI believes it can operate up to 16 chambers at a time.
PRTI has raised approximately $ 10.5 million since its inception in 2013. Hare didn’t say anything about the amount, but said the company was well above it. The company is currently trying to raise money to fund the expansion of the concept.
One of the investors was Fast Med Urgent Care Sold in 2015.. His arrival brought a prominent cryptocurrency focus to PRTI.
In recent years, Williams has become a cryptocurrency guru from a healthcare entrepreneur.He wrote Books on the subject And he created an oversized social media personality to sell Bitcoin to him Over 100,000 Twitter followers And show off his luxurious lifestyle.
He was CEO of PRTI until last year, became Executive Chairman and handed the torch to Hair. Hair was affiliated with a former investment firm, Full Tilt Capital.
PRTI works with a variety of coins, including Bitcoin and another popular digital currency, Ethereum.
“The interesting thing about cryptocurrencies is that it’s a way to monetize energy,” Hair said of PRTI’s ideas.
Like the scrap tire problem, cryptocurrencies have proven to be an environmental challenge.
Cryptocurrency “mining” requires a large amount of computing power and uses electricity continuously. Miners use computers to validate Bitcoin transactions and win new transactions, which requires computers to solve large math problems that only large computers can do.
In China, where most of this mining takes place, Bitcoin mining is projected to generate 130.5 million metric tonnes of carbon emissions by 2024. According to recent research It is published in the academic journal Nature Communications. In other words, by 2024, China’s Bitcoin energy consumption will exceed the total energy consumption of countries like Italy and the greenhouse gas emissions of countries like Spain. Bloomberg News reported..
North Carolina, of course, doesn’t make sense as a place to set up a data center that can mine cryptocurrencies. This is because it gets hot and humid in summer. Most of the biggest ones here (such as the large data centers in the western part of Google and Facebook) were built here because of the state incentives provided.
At PRTI’s Franklinton site, the second floor of the company’s office is now mostly a server farm. Computers make a low roar and the rooms they occupy are kept at much lower temperatures.
“Most of the big data centers in crypto space are located in areas with low ambient temperatures, such as Iceland and places that are very cheap in terms of electricity,” says Hare. “North Carolina isn’t. It’s unusual where we’re doing what we’re doing.”
However, it also serves as a place to prove PRTI. They believe that if we could find a cleaner and cheaper way to operate a data center in the southeast, more people might want to duplicate that setup.
“Currently, we have one sample,” says Hare. “But you start making the next or third one, and it will be repeatable.”
The story was created as part of an independent journalism fellowship program with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh. N & O maintains full editorial control of the work. learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnovate