Written by Robert Leitch.
More than 300 million scrap tires are generated in North America annually, with 11 million in Ohio alone. The tires are made of valuable material that can be recycled, but most often they are burned for their heat value at paper mills, cement kilns or power plants. This burning often happens alongside coal, which is not ideal for the environment.
Zanesville, Ohio’s FWD:Energy has developed a solution for recycling scrap tires that does not involve burning or combustion. Instead, the company has created a clean, high volume microwave process that converts tires into valuable commodity products. These products include synthetic gas for generating electricity, synthetic crude oil, and reclaimed carbon black, which is used as a tinting and dying additive. The company’s prospective customers include oil refineries, chemical companies and plastic and rubber product manufacturers.
“There’s no downside to our recycling process,” said Rich Sloan, CEO of FWD:Energy. “Communities will no longer have to worry about the negative impact scrap tires have on their environment. Plus, our products will create new goods for companies who are looking to purchase and produce in a more sustainable way.”
Sloan spent years as an entrepreneur and creator of StartupNation, a nationally-syndicated radio show and website that provide information to entrepreneurs on starting and growing a business. It is from that community of entrepreneurs that Sloan first learned of an emerging business sector called waste-to-energy.
“I wanted to be a part of waste-to-energy, so I began searching for a waste stream that was readily available, had a big environmental problem that needed to be solved, and had intrinsic value after processing,” said Sloan. “That combination led me to scrap tires.”
Sloan worked closely with TechGROWTH Ohio, an Ohio Third Frontier partner in southeast Ohio, while building FWD:Energy. TechGROWTH helped Sloan with intellectual property development, technology advancement and the recruiting of key personnel for the company. They also provided funding, a portion of which was used to create a prototype system to showcase FWD:Energy’s technology.
“The fact that TechGROWTH was willing to step up early and significantly with funding sent a signal to other potential investors that FWD:Energy was a company worth investing in,” said Sloan. “That sparked a lot of relationships with other investors that might have been harder to establish were it not for TechGROWTH’s commitment.”
FWD:Energy is currently working to transition its prototype system into an Ironton, Ohio-based full-scale tire recycling production plant. Moving forward, the company plans to build plant locations throughout North America and potentially overseas. As the Ironton facility moves into full operation, the company will hire 18 full-time employees.
With the company’s headquarters in southeast Ohio, only a few hundred miles from most of America’s oil refineries, Sloan says FWD:Energy is logistically in the perfect place for success.
“We want to serve our customers as best we can, and being in such close proximity is the best way to accomplish that goal,” said Sloan. “This is one of those rare businesses where your input does a lot of good for communities while your output does a lot of good for industry. We’re committed to making a positive impact in Ohio and beyond with our green jobs and our green products.”