Our universe is made of 115 different elements with distinct chemical characteristics. That speaks volumes about the potential of each element as a resource, not waste! We know a simple switch and shift in the arrangement of the same atoms will give us different resources with different utility. We see this in the natural construction of graphite and diamonds. Both of them are made entirely out of carbon atoms, but we get different resources because of the different arrangement of these atoms.
We know that mixing elements will give us a material entirely different in characteristics, color, shape and utility from its components. Water consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. But by modifying the configuration of the hydrogen and oxygen, or simply by adding or subtracting heat, the result can be quite different. This approach and natural phenomenon gives us clear proof of how we can diversify the utility of the same resources simply by arranging and assembling them in different ways.
Resource Recovery. So, by rethinking how we look at the world around us, resource recovery is an idea with stupendous potential. It considers everything as a resource—either unutilized or underutilized. It is antithetical to the concept of waste management and calls for a paradigm shift. We call something “waste” when we fail to identify its utility. The word “waste” itself denotes failure, which we want to eliminate, not manage. “Waste” reflects a closed mentality because it wrongly judges something as useless, while it actually is not, as nature and our own history of civilization prove.Ethane, now considered to be one of the most versatile raw materials, is used to manufacture diverse kinds of finished products that work as the building blocks and backbone of our modern civilization. But it was once wrongly judged and burnt in an unoptimal way, both financially and environmentally, as a kind of “waste” from crude oil.
The word “waste” makes us more judgmental than analytical. Once we judge something as waste, it makes our mind a graveyard for improvement, invention and innovation. Nothing should be classified as waste. The very concept itself causes pollution of our environment and exhaustion of our resources. It leaves us only with an option of disposal, with triple losses in terms of environment, potential revenue and unnecessary costs. On the other hand, consideration of everything as an unutilized or underutilized resource is a first simple step to the long journey of incessant successes. It helps us keep our mind open for various options, even to the one hitherto unearthed. The concept of “resources yet to be utilized in a better and/or different way” makes us analytical and keeps us from jumping into easy conclusions. The concept of “resource recovery” switches our mind into a fertile land of potential. Everything—regardless of used or not—must be classified as resources underutilized or unutilized.
The technological constraints and the cost of recovery may sometimes hamstring us from recovering the utility. That doesn’t necessarily mean the material is not resourceful. As history of human civilization has proven again and again, our technological advancement in the near future may help us to overcome both operational and financial constraints we might be facing in recovering certain resources now. This concept will help us to protect our environment and to make our hot planet cool and our resources renewable.
The concept of resource recovery is a real gain, both from an environmental and a financial perspective. In a nutshell, resource recovery helps to conserve natural resources, multiplies the uses and utilities, lowers the cost of consumption and disposal, generates revenue, and saves the environment.
Operational Methods of Resource Recovery
Now that we have made it clear that we need a paradigm shift from the conventional way of waste management to one of resource recovery, we will look at the various resource recovery operational methods. These methods will differ from case to case and business to business. However, for each case, there is an economically and environmentally workable operational method. We need to coin terminologies for the different methods of recovery operations with specific business connotation. Here are some of the terms:
Reuse: Making the material useful for the same unit, for the same purpose, with or without repair.
Reutilization: Making the material useful for the same unit for a different purpose, with or without repair.
Redeployment: Utilizing the material rendered idle by a section of a business entity for another section of the
same entity and/or utilizing the materials rendered idle for different purposes by another unit.
Returning: Selling back to the vendor for a certain percentage of the purchase price as per the agreement at the time of its purchase.
Reprocessing: Changing the material from one form to another with or without any additive through a process in place (e.g., from molten to
flakes, from liquid to gas, or vice versa).
Regeneration: Reactivating the material made otherwise idle by eliminating coke, dirt and/or other alien deposits.
Reform: Changing the chemical structure of the material through use of catalysts and/or chemical reaction, including dehydrogenization, isomerization and hydrogenolysis (e.g., naphtha into higher-octane aromatics).
Reclaim: Separating the precious and valuable part of any idle material for producing new materials. (Surplus IT assets come to mind.) Retrieving: Capturing of any gas, including carbon dioxide, vented into the air and extracting gases, such as nitrogen, oxygen and argon, from the air through the process of separation.
Mixing of the material/streams: Mixing different materials/streams into one for greater value, while a single material/stream becomes not feasible for recovery, both from a financial and an operational perspective, or has lesser value than the mixed.
Recycling: Complete transformation of the material into the smallest pieces/particles through a process to use it for making new finished products. This is also called scrapping. This is the last and final option of resource recovery. Once scrapping is done the material cannot be used for its original purpose. To optimize the financial returns from scrapping the material, always return to the “BASICS”: Identify the Base elements of the material to be scrapped. Analyze the composition and quantify it. Stratify the components from the highest value to the lowest.
Apart from the above mentioned 11 methods, there are other methods of restructuring and/or rearrangement of existing resources rendered idle for their recovery by activating them to achieve the optimal value. Regardless of which method is adopted for recovering the resources, a set of critical issues needs to be considered:
• Adhering to environmental, health and safety procedures
• Complying with governmental rules and regulations
• Adhering to company work processes and procedures
• Making sure the work environment is clean and safe
• Eliminating potential risks and liabilities that might lie hidden within the recovery method adopted
We won’t be able to fulfill all these requirements and achieve the intended results without careful planning and efficient management, which is critical for the smooth and successful recovery of resources.
Author: Abdul Razak, P.P.
IR Sales and Contracting Executive
EQUATE Petrochemical Co., Kuwait