Thursday, August 5, 2010

Carpet, a Potential Alternative Energy Source: Werner Braun

Carpet, a potential alternative energy source

Werner Braun: Why are we sending good fuel to the landfill?: Discarded carpet is a potential alternative energy source

Is it environmentally preferable to use post-consumer carpet as an alternative fuel to coal than to send it to the landfill? That’s the question that Werner Braun, Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI)’s president asks in his latest column for the Dalton Daily-Citizen.

“Even though an enormous amount of used carpet is recycled every year, not all of it can be. Over the last eight years, the carpet industry has been instrumental in diverting over 1.6 billion pounds of carpet from landfills. In addition to saving landfill space, this effort has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1.4 million metric tons of CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalents), which is the same as taking over one-quarter million cars off the road for a year. Much of this has been accomplished through the collection and recycling of carpet.”

The reasons some used carpet does not qualify for recycling relate to various factors: the carpet could have gotten wet and contaminated in some way; different fiber types or components may be limited in their recyclability. Sometimes backing and other materials may be left over after the most valuable portion of the carpet (the face fiber) is separated. Finally, some materials simply cannot be recycled economically. What is the best thing to do with the post-consumer carpet that cannot be recycled?

“The bulk of all carpet face fiber and backing is petroleum-based, including materials such as nylon, polyester, latex and other backing materials. All of these have high fuel value.

Today, only about 15 percent of all carpet recycled is being used as an alternative fuel despite the fact that the BTU (British thermal unit, measurement of the heat value of a fuel) properties of carpet make it an excellent material as a fuel substitute for mined coal. Post-consumer carpet has an estimated heating value of 13,900 BTUs per pound, or roughly 25 percent more than coal’s heating value.

Post-consumer carpet is also a cleaner fuel than coal. The combustion of one ton of carpet scraps in an industrial boiler releases 3,800 pounds CO2e, while offsetting 7,800 pounds of CO2e from coal combustion. Additionally, a 2008 study by Sound Resource Management for Seattle Public Utilities concluded that using scrap carpet as a coal replacement had substantial climate change and environmental benefits as opposed to simply landfilling used carpet.”

Wow. Carpet burns cleaner than coal. That sounds like an idea worth pursuing. Cities need to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. Using carpet as a fuel could provide a source of energy rather than take up precious landfill space.

“…the carpet industry feels the benefits of using carpet as an alternative fuel are an important component of the total solution to carpet diversion, and therefore this use should be more universally considered and implemented in the United States. Using carpet as an alternative fuel helps slow down the continued depletion of fossil fuels. It creates lower greenhouse gas emissions versus coal, along with having the higher BTU value.”

Thank you Werner, for this fascinating look at a potential new energy source.


For more information about the carpet industry’s efforts to recycle post-consumer carpet, go to the CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort) website


Jeff said...

That's a very interesting use of used carpet. I think we should all get involved in promoting this to our cities. Here in San Antonio the city has a green program in place. We should be using clean coals as much as possible and every thing helps.
San Antonio Carpet Cleaning

Bethany said...

Hi Jeff,
It is pretty interesting to think waste carpet could be used in place of coal for energy, isn't it? I appreciate your comment, and I'm going to forward it to my colleagues at the Carpet America Recovery Effort. Keep reading, and thanks.
Bethany said...

It is amazing that carpet is so full of energy. I would have thought that it would not burn as well as coal. Would it be easy to build a carpet shcredder and then burn the carpet in a small heater/burner?

Bethany said...

Great question, but beyond my scope of knowledge. I am going to ask someone from Carpet America Recovery Effort to respond.

Stephen Lewis said...

It’s wonderful that the industry has been able to divert 1.6 billion pounds of carpet from landfills. Also, it would be excellent if fuel creation became a viable end-of-life alternative for carpet. It is important to remember, however, that while all carpet will eventually need to be replaced and discarded, the lifetime of carpet can be greatly extended by instituting a well-planned ongoing maintenance program – therefore resulting in less carpet needing to be diverted over time. Thank you for sharing this insightful series from Werner Braun.

Bethany said...

Hi Stephen,
Thanks for your comment - and you could not make a better point - proper cleaning and maintenance extends the useful life of carpet.

wind generator said...

With an increase in the carbon emission and pollution many automotive companies and industries are trying to find an alternative fuel efficient vehicles and technology for the consumers. Good innovative ideas reflected in this post

Bethany said...

Thanks for your comment. As one other commentor said, "everything helps." We'll keep everyone updated on this topic. Feel free to leave ideas for you own for potential uses for old carpet.

green energy said...

Huh, I had no idea carpet was being used as fuel, that's really quite interesting. This also puts into focus on just how dirty coal is. If burning shag releases half the amount of CO2e then coal, wow.

Bethany said...

Hi Green Energy,
Using carpet as a fuel source is a new development, but it is one landfill diversion scenario recognized by the Carpet America Recovery Effort. I think it has potential, don't you? Thanks for your comment.

Divert Girl said...

Is anyone actually creating energy from old carpet now?

Bethany said...

Hello Divert Girl,
They sure are. In Dalton, GA, Shaw Industries has a gasificatiion plant that uses post-industrial wood flour from their hardwood manufacturing and selvidge edges from their carpet mills to create steam that powers one of their carpet tufting plants. Shaw is also on the verge of opening a plant that will utilize post-consumer as alternative fuel. check out Shaw's sustainability report at Bethany

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