Wheel of fortune spins for worn-out tyres

A waste product of the automobile age could be turned into electricity or used to stop coastal erosion. Tony Newton reports The coast protection plan could use the UK's output of scrap tyres for 30 years

One only has to see the acrid black plume of smoke rising from a tyre dump that has been burning for several weeks to feel that there must be better ways of storing and disposing of the 25 million or so worn tyres removed from British vehicles ev ery year.

Alternatives to the open-storage method traditionally used by the tyre industry include landfill and storage in disused coal mines, both of which not only pose a fire hazard, but also may give rise to leaching of noxious gases and liquids as the tyre breaks down. Incinerating scrap tyres in power stations is a superficially attractive option: scrap tyres contain about 21,000 kilojoules of energy per lb, while coal contains around 9,500 kilojoules per lb, and according to government statistics, the weekly electricity needs of a typical home can be met by the incineration of just 10 tyres. The problem is the noxious gases and solid by-products released during the process.

Elm Energy & Recycling (UK) Ltd seems to have found an answer that satisfies everyone. The West Midlands Whole-Tyres-To-Electricity Facility in Wolverhampton, opened in November 1993, is the first power station of its kind in the UK, where scrap tyres are incinerated to generate more than 175,000 megawatt hours of electricity a year for the national grid, with 27,000 tonnes of by-products, including steel wire and zinc oxide, which can be used in other manufacturing processes. The company also profits from the fact that the electricity so produced benefits from the higher-priced Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation of the Department of Trade's Renewable Energy Programme.

The Elm Energy project can make use of only 18 to 20 per cent of scrap-tyre waste. Elm Energy aims to open a similar plant in East Kilbride, Scotland, and the company is searching for a site in southern England.

But until such plants come on-line, that leaves 80 per cent or more of Britain's scrap tyre output needing disposal, and a very different fate for this surplus is being investigated by the Humberside County Council - in conjunction with the Tyre IndustryCouncil and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food - to help protect the Holderness coastline on Humberside, which is being eroded by the sea at a rate of 1.8 metres every year.

While the main towns and villages of this stretch of coast have been protected from erosion since the early years of this century by a series of reinforced concrete walls and timber groynes, similar protection of the land between them has not been economically viable - it would cost between £5,000 and £6,000 per metre of cliff, which far outstrips the commercial value of the land being lost. However, the impact of the erosion on property and livelihoods can no longer be ignored.

A series of artificial rock headlands or shore-parallel breakwaters would halt the erosion, but at prohibitive expense. A third possibility is to create artificial sandbanks that would cause incoming waves to break prematurely and dissipate the energy that would have caused erosion. Computer modelling has shown that such a solution would halt erosion in about 100 years through the formation of stable bays, offering a more gentle and longer-lasting result than shore-based protection.

Experiments showed that in order to be effective, such structures would need to be 1,000m offshore, parallel to the coast in 15 metres of water, with 5 metres of water above them at low tide. They would need to be at least 30 metres wide, with a gentle sea-facing slope to maximise the breaking effect. Each bank would be about 2,000 metres long, with a 500 metre gap between banks to provide continuous coverage for 50 kilometres of coastline.

Such huge structures would require a considerable quantity of material for their construction - and the tyre industry has a considerable quantity of material to dispose of. The Holderness coast project could accept the UK's entire output of scrap-tyre casings for 30 years, to provide a self-financing method of coastal protection. With a likely capacity of one billion tyres, the scheme could even earn revenue by accommodating scrap tyres from abroad. An additional benefit would be the colonisation of these artificial reefs by a variety of fauna and flora, perhaps including shellfish for commercial exploitation.

The tyres would be used as "rubber rocks'', comprising 20 or so compacted tyres filled with concrete. These "rocks'' would be wired and concreted together, and deposited on the seabed through a bottom-opening boat.

Reefs using compacted bundles of tyres similar to those proposed at Holderness have been in use off the New Jersey coast in the US since 1986 and successfully colonised by algae and a wide range of fauna, including coral and shellfish. Tests on mussels from these reefs show no evidence of bioaccumulation of heavy metals or toxic organic compounds above those found at control sites.

It is an interesting thought that projects such as Elm Energy and Holderness could eventually find themselves in competition for tyres. The concept of two bodies actually competing for a waste product that has no value to anyone else is a novel one but, sadly, still a long way off.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
Man taking selfie in front of car
health
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore