Why this Houston energy innovator created a spin-off company to focus on tire waste
With over a billion cars currently on the road — each with four tires that will eventually end up discarded, one Houstonian is hoping to create the infrastructure to sustainably dispose of tire waste now and into the future.
Announced earlier this month, Vibhu Sharma founded InnoVent Renewables to establish production facilities that utilize a proprietary continuous pyrolysis technology that is able to convert waste tires, plastics, and biomass into fuels and chemicals.
In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, Sharma explains his plans to sustainably impact the tire waste space and his vision for his company.
EnergyCapital: Why did you decide to expand the InnoVent brand to focus on renewable energy?
Vibhu Sharma: InnoVent Technology has been developing and implementing projects in renewable energy, chemicals, and oil and gas. Project examples include an EV battery chemical project for a $9 billion chemical company, municipal solid waste (MSW) to biogas, and of course pyrolysis of waste tires, plastics and biomass. Renewable energy is the calling of our time, and with our expertise in this area, we felt strongly that we must do more. With 1 billion waste tires disposed of every year, we wanted to focus on this vast opportunity, which led us to create a spin-off company called InnoVent Renewables, in order to specifically focus on innovative technologies such as pyrolysis of waste tires. We received overwhelming response from our investors and partners, and we're on our way to the first commercial production facility.
EC: Can you describe the process of converting the materials into fuel? How does it work?
VS: At a high level the process involves shredding of tires into small cubes, which are then fed into the main pyrolysis reactor. They're pre-heated enroute to the reactor, using the pyrolysis gas that's generated in the reactor. The reactor operates at a high temperature, and in the absence of oxygen, and decomposes the tires into various components. These are then separated using various techniques. The gases are treated to remove any sulfur, and then used to preheat the shredded tires. The pyrolysis oil (pyoil), which is one of the main products, is condensed out.
The pyoil is further processed to separate out higher value aromatics, and the remaining pyoil is equivalent to off-road diesel or fuel oil, and can be sold directly. The aromatic stream can be further processed or sold directly. It makes a great feed for petrochemical plants, or carbon black plants.
There are two solid products as well. These are recovered carbon black (rCB) and steel wire. Steel wire is separated from the rCB mix and can be sold directly. The rCB is further processed through a series of steps resulting in a high-quality powder which can be used to make tires, making it a completely circular product.
EC: Tell me about your expansion plan. Where are you hoping to grow the company and why in those particular regions?
VS: Our immediate plan is to build and start our commercial production facility in Monterrey, Mexico. Monterrey happens to be home to nearly 50 million waste tires. We are located very close to where the source is. We will set up our initial production train there, and leave room to expand to multiple parallel trains at the same site or nearby sites.
We have our own engineering and operations team in Monterrey, and we have access to modern infrastructure and resources, as this is a fast-growing city of 6 million people. In addition, we have close proximity to Texas for product distribution. Our next step will be to establish production facilities in Texas. We are based in Texas. Texas also has access to at least 50 million tires in landfills all across the state, and the state is taking significant measures to address this issue. We are already engaging with various entities here to plan our expansion site. Meanwhile we have been receiving high levels of interest from counties in Florida, California, as well as international sites in India and the Middle East to set up production facilities there. There are one billion waste tires disposed of every year, it's a huge opportunity. Some of these expansion decisions will depend on support from state governments, access to tires, cost of setting up the facility, etc.
EC: Do you plan on raising investment funding to reach these goals? If not, how will you be funded?
VS: We are fully funded for our first production site in Mexico. Based on our cash flow projections, we should be able to self-fund expansions at that site, and eventually add additional production trains. In order to accelerate our expansion at other sites, we intend to raise funds, with support from different states/counties in the USA where we decide to expand, and with support from investors. We are also open to strategic partners that can team up with us for the expansion both internationally and domestically.
EC: In the long term, what's the impact you hope to make?
VS: Each production train of 15,000 tons that recycles 1 million passenger tires per year, can reduce CO2 emissions by 80 million pounds per year. Over the next five years, our goal is to get that target to 150,000 tons of recycling, which is 800 million pounds of CO2 emission reduction. That's a good impact to have, and a great way to drive renewable energy forward.
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.