A recycling plant in England has created the world’s first socially and environmentally responsible way to process asbestos.
Thermal Recycling in the West Midlands town of Wolverhampton can take asbestos, remove it from the cement it’s mixed in, and turn “chrysotile asbestos into a material that is no more harmful than the cement from which it was derived.”
Famed as an electrical insulator and building material, asbestos is now well-known for its health hazards, as breathing the long silicate fibers released into the air when the material is cut or broken can cause fatal lung diseases.
Thermal Recycling has developed a process for “denaturing,” as in, “to remove the nature of” asbestos through heating the material in a special kiln that passed environmental regulations and is set to come online for business in 2021.
“To date, nearly 200 tests of the treated material have been conducted using Polarised Light Microscopy,” explains Thermal Recycling on their website. “No asbestos has been detected in any of these tests. We have also undertaken eight tests using Scanning Electron Microscopy. These have also shown that no asbestos has been detected.”
Not only does their process remove the properties that make asbestos what it is, but it does so without any pre-treatment of chemicals, as other denaturing processes might require. This lowers costs of the final product and prevents the additional step of needing to dispose of chemicals.
Chairman Graham Gould noted at the opening of their test plant that “we can’t continue putting asbestos in landfill sites for future generations to deal with,” highlighting the unfortunate reality of asbestos disposal up until his groundbreaking innovation.
Thermal Recycling was also awarded the Innovate UK Smart Grant, which they’ll use to identify the exact best use for the post-asbestos cement aggregate material leftover from their process.
The market value of this process could be immeasurable, since despite its toxicity and banned-status in 55 different nations, asbestos is still mined in the millions of metric tonnes around the world every year.
Russia produces about one million metric tonnes from its mines in Asbest, northeast of Moscow, while the world’s second largest producer China mines about 400,000 metric tonnes every year. Brazil and Kazakhstan are also significant miners of chrysotile asbestos, and nations like India and Indonesia—though not big producers themselves—import hundreds of thousands of tonnes every year.