System upgrade: Dale Johnson and MaSeR bring a new degree of separation to electronics recycling.
When a new system is deployed, it can be both a source of pride and anxiety for those who own it as well as a source of curiosity and concern for those who don't.
Such is the case with the new system installed by MaSeR (Materials Separation and Recovery) Corp. at its Barrie, Ontario, Canada, facility. The recycling and separating system brings &lamination technology, developed in Europe and acquired by MaSeR, to the North American electronics recycling industry for the first time.
The desired result will be improved recovery efficiency for electronics component materials, including copper, precious metals, aluminum, steel and plastics.
BEYOND SHREDDING. At first glance, MaSeR's Barrie facility is reminiscent of other existing electronics shredding plants.
The front end of the plant consists of a series of shredding and initial sorting devices that liberate and remove ferrous materials and some plastics while also downsizing the remaining materials.
At this point, however, the MaSeR process departs from traditional recycling technology. After this preparation phase, the downsized particles of materials (this portion of the stream can include pieces of circuit boards, hard drives and miscellaneous fastened pieces) head to MaSeR's Fractionater[TM] for delamination.
In this phase, materials bound together during the manufacturing process by lamination and with fasteners are physically separated for higher-value recycling.
After the Fractionater works its delamination magic, the mix of un-bonded constituent materials is segregated by size and then recovered through a series of sieves and fluid-bed separators that yield three desirable, recyclable commodities: aluminum choppings and powder; mixed copper and precious metals choppings and powder; and mixed plastics.
A selling point for MaSeR is that the process it uses ensures secure data destruction. By delaminating the cobalt-chromium plating from the aluminum platters in hard drives, the data-bearing medium is separated from the platter, and all the information stored on drives is eliminated.
MaSeRs executive team says this destruction process exceeds the capabilities of traditional data security techniques, including hard drive over-writing, de-gaussing and shredding, while also ensuring on the environmental front that the process does not involve burning, exporting or landfilling residual materials.
MaSeR's Barrie plant consists of two production lines set up within the company's 46,000-square-foot space. Each line is designed to process up to 40 million pounds of electronic scrap annually. The stream can be varied, but certain portions of the electronic scrap stream are unwelcome.
HELPFUL SCREENING. Most electronic scrap processed by MaSeR has been triaged by an electronics recycler prior to its shipment to MaSeR.
Any saleable units or parts have already been recovered and hazardous components have been removed. MaSeR does not accept monitors or other CRT (cathode ray tube) devices, as the system is not suited for processing glass. Customers are also asked to remove batteries, power packs and other potentially hazardous substances so they do not enter the processing stream.
Beyond those exceptions, computers, peripherals, circuit boards, power cords and other electronic scrap can be processed together and with minimal prior disassembly in a system that yields recyclable steel, aluminum, copper, precious metals and mixed plastic scrap.
KNOWING THE MARKET. MaSeR, with headquarters offices in Marblehead, Mass., is not a ship being steered by a novice crew. Co-founder, President and CEO Dale Johnson and cofounder and advisor Michael Magliaro are veterans of the electronics industry, and earlier this year the company added another electronics recycling veteran as its executive vice president in the form of Lauren Roman.
Johnson learned the electronics industry during his years as executive vice president of Manufacturers' Service Limited (MSL), a global contract electronics manufacturing firm that went public in 2000 and was acquired by a Toronto-based Celestica Inc. in 2004.
After departing MSL, Johnson decided to call upon his background in electronics manufacturing to conduct research into the computer repair, refurbishment and recycling industry, with an eye on identifying best practices for a future business endeavor. During this process, he met Magliaro, co-founder of D.M. Electronics Recycling Corp. (DMC), which at one time was one of the largest electronic scrap recycling companies in North America. Magliaro also later co-founded Lifecycle Partners, an electronics asset management company based in Merrimack, N.H., that is one of MaSeR's strategic partners.
Johnson and Magliaro founded MaSeR in 2002 after being convinced that the Fractionater materials separation process developed in Europe could successfully be used to recycle electronic scrap and other difficult to recycle composite materials.
Johnson subsequently negotiated for MaSeR to acquire the worldwide rights to the technology, and MaSeR secured venture funding for its first site.
MaSeR's initial facility in Barrie came about in part because of interest from Barrie Metals Ltd. and Cable Recycling Inc. (CRI), scrap and electronics recycling companies based in Barrie that could offer leased working space and material to be processed at the plant.
CRI needed a cost-effective domestic solution for low-grade electronic scrap recovery in order to position itself for the projected onslaught of material from Ontario's anticipated electronics take-back directive.
In the spring of 2005, Johnson brought on board Lauren Roman, a former vice president with electronics recycling firm United Recycling Industries, West Chicago, Ill Roman initially has worked with Barrie's Plant Manager John Sherman to guide the set-up of the pilot plant there, but her primary task now will be marketing MaSeR's services to its potential customer base throughout North America.
SURVEYING THE FIELD. MaSeR's management team is confident of their technology's ability to process and sort electronic scrap, even the lowest-value electronic scrap that is now commonly exported.
The challenge will be to tap into a steady flow of material in ways that will benefit both their own profitability and the bottom lines of their customers.
The company is marketing primarily to existing electronics recyclers. Roman says existing recyclers can continue to evaluate and refurbish incoming equipment and components, but that MaSeR offers an alternative to exporting low-value and non-working portions of their incoming stream. "We also offer a cost reduction in labor by reducing dismantling time for items they ship here," she remarks.
Roman and Johnson believe that even electronics shredding firms are suitable customers for the MaSeR process, as they can now further separate and market the mixed portions of their recycling stream before sending them to a smelter.
"We are able to recover more from the same material than other processors," says Johnson. "For example, we recover aluminum and plastic that is otherwise burned in the process of smelting for precious metals."
In a brochure designed for electronic scrap demanufacturers, MaSeR positions itself as "an economical alternative to export," as a performer of "true data destruction," and as a provider of better scrap commodity returns because of the aluminum scrap and usable mixed plastics streams it can create.
Roman says secure data destruction is rapidly becoming a critical aspect of what MaSeR is offering. "Data destruction requirements are actually trumping environmental issues in the electronics recycling industry," says Roman. "Destroying the magnetic field on hard drives through delamination eliminates data that even overwriting, de-gaussing and shredding can leave behind."
Marketing efforts are also being directed toward original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the computer and consumer electronics industries.
MaSeR's leaders say OEMs finding value in the MaSeR process are now pointing their electronics recyclers toward MaSeR for opportunities to recover more material from their products and to reduce recovery costs. "OEMs can petition their e-recyclers to send materials to MaSeR," says Roman.
MaSeR appeals to OEMs using the same logic that appeals to demanufacturers and is also making OEMs aware that other materials may benefit from the MaSeR process.
Johnson and the MaSeR management team have identified composite auto parts, blister pack packaging, wire and cable and other composite materials as potential infeed for MaSeRs production lines.
MORE TO COME. The establishment of a working system in Barrie has enabled MaSeR and an investment firm backer to have the confidence to establish an additional location in the United States.
MaSeR is eyeing the state of Maryland as the ideal spot to locate its next production facility to take advantage of electronic scrap generated in the technology-heavy Washington, D.C., region, with its abundance of government and commercial offices continually generating obsolete electronics.
Johnson says current plans call for one of the two lines in Barrie to be transferred to Maryland in the first half of 2006. Over the next three years, it will make sense to open at least four additional U.S. locations as well as plants in Europe and China, according to Johnson. "China will be generating a lot of electronic scrap domestically as its economy grows, and it will also face recycling challenges," notes Johnson.
To undertake such expansion plans, the company will call upon its relationship with investor funding it is receiving from the Asia West Environment Fund. Greenwich, Conn.-based Asia West has added MaSeR to its portfolio of funded companies, along with such firms as plastics recycler MBA Polymers, Richmond, Calif. (See the cover story of the November 2002 issue of Recycling Today) and Mobius Technologies, Grass Valley, Calif, inventor of a polyurethane foam recycling system.
MaSeR's future will require it to respond to a number of operating practices, industry conditions and governmental mandates that are still unclear, says Johnson.
"Operationally, recyclers have to determine what is the best way they can handle low-value electronic scrap," says Johnson. "We provide a sustainable domestic solution as an alternative to exporting, and as we prove this, we will cause a paradigm shift in the way end-of-life electronics are handled."
The structure of the electronics recycling industry itself provides opportunities for change that could affect the extent of MaSeR's success. Says Johnson of the current state of electronics recycling, "The industry is for the most part regionalized and fragmented at a time when OEMs and large generators are looking for vendors who can provide national and, ideally, global solutions with a common look and feel."
Johnson continues by saying, "The industry also appears to be capital-constrained when published data show it needs to grow capacity four or five times by the end of this decade to meet forecasted demand. What we essentially have, then, is an industry ripe for consolidation, and we wanted to position MaSeR to take advantage of that."
In terms of government mandates, Johnson says most of North America will eventually catch up to Europe in terms of end-of-life responsibility issues. "The big issue is when, not if, we'll see electronics take-back requirements in North America," he states. "And then, the question will be what export restrictions will be placed on electronics recyclers wing to process collected products."
Johnson says MaSeR provides just the economical domestic solution that will be required by take-back laws.
How will MaSeR fare in a time of changing business parameters? "For s MaSeR to be successful, we have to be operationally excellent and strategically aggressive," Johnson says. "We have to keep our eye on the big picture but stay focused on execution. That means taking full advantage of our opportunity for growth in the electronics industry as well as in other industries while maintaining the highest performance standards for our customers."
The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RELATED ARTICLE: Plastics progress.
The electronic scrap that passes through the MaSeR facility in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, is yielding highly desirable secondary metals, but also a very clean stream of mixed plastic. (That is, with minimal traces of metal.)
Markets for scrap metals are established and mature, meaning MaSeR will always find ready markets for the steel, aluminum, copper and precious metals scrap it harvests.
Plastics recycling is a younger industry, and markets for mixed plastics in particular can be difficult to find for processing companies who shred obsolete items containing a variety of plastic resin types.
But MaSeR is working on two different fronts to ensure that the clean mixed plastics it prepares are recycled rather than landfilled.
One option is to tap into the growing domestic demand for mixed plastics as a suitable manufacturing feedstock in the creation of such materials as plastic lumber and other extruded products that can accept mixed plastics as an ingredient in the manufacturing process.
One such manufacturer that MaSeR ships to is Green Polymer Technologies, Schaumburg, Ill., a licenser of technology designed to make plastic lumber and extruded shapes that can be used in outdoor construction applications, such as highway sound barriers.
MaSeR is also communicating with MBA Polymers, Richmond, Calif., a designer of plastics separating and recycling technology that, like MaSeR, is backed by the Asia West Environment Fund, Greenwich, Conn.
Working with MBA could yield further sorting and separating opportunities that would let MaSeR facilities create several clean streams of desirable plastic scrap sorted by resin type. This would open the recycled plastic up to a number of end markets that do not have an interest in mixed plastic, but would indeed pay to obtain a single-resin commodity.
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|Title Annotation:||Materials Separation and Recovery corp.|
|Comment:||System upgrade: Dale Johnson and MaSeR bring a new degree of separation to electronics recycling.(Materials Separation and Recovery corp.)|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2005|
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