Megan Workman

The author is associate editor of Recycling Today magazine.


Operations focus: Beyond the bottom of the barrel

Operations Focus

A new facility in Minnesota plans to be the first worldwide to manufacture a high-quality product using recycled asphalt shingles, which are gaining market value in the U.S.

January 15, 2015

Timing is everything. For Tom Branhan, it was the right timing that led to the recent commissioning of his recycling and oil extraction company in Minnesota, what he says is the first facility of its type in the world.

First, Recovery Technology Solutions LLC (RTS) partnered with an oilseed extraction equipment manufacturer, Minneapolis-based Crown Iron Works Co., that developed proprietary technology in the 1970s. That exclusive disruptive process extraction system “has been sitting on the shelf for a long time,” and was brought to the market a few years ago, Branhan says.

After seven years of trial and error technology development and three years of “flying under the radar” with all of this information, Branhan says RTS is now ready to reveal its “brand new technology that has never [before] been proven in a full commercial atmosphere.”

The company planned to start shipping its material by February of this year.

RTS provides a recycling process for scrap asphalt shingles. The process extracts and reclaims the components of asphalt roofing shingles—asphalt, gravel, sand, fine calcium carbonate and fiber—by using a solvent to dissolve the material to form a slurry of asphalt-solvent liquid and the solid materials.

Forum factors

As CEO and co-owner of the recycling firm DemCon Cos., Shakopee, Minnesota, Jason Haus also serves as chair of the Construction & Demolition Recycling Association’s (CDRA’s) Shingle Recycling Committee. Haus says of the CDRA’s eight different committees, the Shingle Recycling Committee is “the largest and most active.” Up to 30 members tune in to one conference call where free-flowing conversations flourish, he notes.

Haus says the committee’s biennial Shingle Recycling Forum has played a large part in how people in the industry work together, from manufacturers to shingle producers. The two-day sessions from the Sixth Shingle Recycling Forum, Nov. 7-8, 2013, at the Westin Downtown in Denver, ranged from issues related to Department of Transportation (DOT) approval and operational factors to scientific topics, Haus says.

The 7th Shingle Recycling Forum will take place Oct. 29-30, 2015, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chicago.

“The Shingle Recycling Forum started out with the first couple of meetings at the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] office in Chicago, with maybe 25 people there, and we’ve grown that to host 350 people every other year,” Haus explains.

He adds, “Our ability to work with people in other parts of the country, sharing data and facilitating studies has also worked since we developed a website,”

The resource features a number of industry-specific tools online such as an asphalt shingle recycler search function, a summary of the 2013 forum—where Haus says attendees left “thinking the market is maturing,”—as well as a Q&A of the “Economics of Shingle Recycling,” which has been condensed and is available here:

Why can using recycled asphalt shingles (RAS) result in cost savings?

Manufactured shingles consist of about 40 percent asphalt, therefore, offering a cost-effective alternative to virgin asphalt and aggregate used in paving projects. The use of RAS in hot-mix asphalt applications can reduce the overall cost of paving a road.

What factors influence the cost?

The costs for virgin asphalt and aggregates throughout most of the country continue to rise. That cost varies depending on your location and the relative availability of virgin asphalt and virgin aggregates.

There are costs involved in processing RAS that include equipment and labor to efficiently grind the byproduct, transportation and storage.

What variables come into play when estimating possible cost savings?

Those variables include the grade of hot-mix asphalt produced, the cost for virgin liquid asphalt and alternative aggregates, landfill tipping fees and the capital cost of equipment, as well as acquisition, processing and handling expenses.

Branhan says the process is neither easy nor cheap, the very reason it has not been accomplished before RTS’s efforts.

As the first facility worldwide to use a solvent reduction to recover asphalt and other components from roofing shingles, Branhan says the Shakopee, Minnesota-based facility will be capable of processing 200 tons of asphalt shingles daily.

In Shakopee, RTS has partnered Dem Con Cos., which Branhan refers to as “the pioneer of recycling shingles.”

Dem-Con has been serving the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota for nearly 50 years, and today operates a construction and demolition (C&D) material recovery facility (MRF), a single-stream MRF, a shingle processing yard, a wood processing facility and a landfill.

“Our plant will consume 70,000 tons of shingles a year, which currently are going to landfills like Dem-Con,” Branhan says.

Dem-Con Shingle Processing (DCSP) is the company’s shingle recycling arm that collects postconsumer tear-off and manufacturer shingles. Once clean, the shingles are ground on site and sold to hot-mix asphalt producers to replace virgin oil in the production of roads, driveways and parking lots.

DCSP processes on average 25,000 tons of shingles per year.

Jason Haus, CEO and co-owner of Dem-Con, says the success of the RTS facility would help eliminate the landfilling of shingles.

Each year in the United States, 11 million tons of postconsumer tear-off shingles are generated, with just 1.6 million tons recycled, Haus says. “We’re still landfilling shingles, and we want to get to the point where we don’t have to do that,” he says, adding, “That’s where Tom’s facility comes in as it’s a nice complement to the marketplace.”

He continues, “If there isn’t a recycling option in that locality, shingles just don’t get recycled.”

Part of the reason so many shingles end up in landfills is that most states have initiated fixed maximum limits on the amount of recycled asphalt shingles (RAS) allowed in hot-mix asphalt processes, according to Haus. In Minnesota, for example, only 30 percent of the binder in hot-mix asphalt is allowed to be RAS or recycled asphalt pavement (RAP).

“You always have to have 70 percent virgin binder in hot mix,” Haus says.

That justifies why only 5 percent of the Minnesota area’s generated shingles are chopped up and reused in roadways, Branhan says.

“[Dem-Con] shouldn’t have to bury any shingles going forward, which saves a significant amount of landfill space for Dem-Con,” Branhan says.

He adds, “Shingles are nothing but asphalt and solids: rock, gravel and sand. If you put them into a landfill, they do not compost. It will take tens of thousands of years to break down. We think we’re doing a really valuable service not only to the landfills, and to people who generate landfill waste, but also we’re literally preserving the life of their landfill.”

Vast value

Value is the sole reason to recycle shingles. Rooftop shingles contain up to 20 percent asphalt material, Haus says. With such a continuous flow of material—Haus notes that the average roof on a home in Minnesota lasts for 10 years—it does not make sense to throw away a product that has a viable market.

“If you have a resource that sits on top of your roof that has 20 percent asphalt in it, it’s wasteful to throw it away,” Haus says. “I look at asphalt shingles no different than an aluminum can. It’s just a different product.”

Haus says all parts of the U.S. are in different stages regarding today’s shingles market. Some are hungry for the material while other areas have a decreased appetite.

In addition, the industry is becoming more comfortable with using RAS in various outlets.

The number of states where hot-mix producers reported using RAS has increased each year from 22 in 2009 to 38 in 2013, according to the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s (NAPA’s) Annual Asphalt Pavement Industry Survey on Recycled Materials and Warm-Mix Asphalt Usage: 2009-2013. Three states—Connecticut, Louisiana and Wyoming—reported their first use of RAS in 2013.

Funding also is pushing the interest in shingle recycling. In September 2014, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Dr. Walaa Mogawer received $250,000 from the New England Transportation Consortium (NETC) for research on “Hot Mix Asphalt Mixture Containing Recycled Asphalt Shingles.” The research is designed to further study and develop technologies in the area of pavement material construction and sustainability.

According to NETC, only 10 to 15 percent of reclaimed materials are used to build roads today.

A challenge in shingles recycling today relates to the overabundance of RAP, which is slightly cheaper than RAS, and most hot-mix asphalt plants have this material on hand, keeping demand softer than recyclers would like, Haus says. RAP is the most common replacement component for RAS.

“If we didn’t have a disproportionate amount of RAP in our material, we would be able to move more,” Haus suggests.

Quality is key. Haus uses Texas as an example when he explains how the state used to produce a lot of hot-mix asphalt using shingle material. Taking a step backward, he says, some regions instead used RAP in their mixes, resulting in quality issues including pavement that did not hold up.

“Manufacturing the highest quality you can is the goal. We don’t want shingles to be blamed for poor quality as there is more and more testing that shows the quality mix that can be made as long as it’s quality shingle material going into it,” Haus offers.

Quality counts

A quality material is exactly what RTS will produce, Branhan says. “There’s nothing available today like it. Not even close,” he proclaims.

The proprietary process used by RTS will produce a product line, Raven Asphalt Products, which includes asphalt, granules, calcium carbonate, sand and fiber from recycled roofing materials.

To market Raven Asphalt Products, RTS plans to develop relationships with waste management and roofing companies, shingle manufacturers and asphalt users. The company sees its asphalt product aiding shingle manufacturers to earn the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building rating certification. Branhan says selling the product back to roofing manufacturers and to hot-mix asphalt users for use on highways is another option.

While the flagship location in the suburb of Minneapolis is just getting started, Branhan points out that this will be one of many facilities like it across the nation.

Initially focusing on the Midwest, he says RTS facilities will start to pop up in different regions.

“This is the first plant, but there are many more to come. We have 30 to 40 plants on our immediate schedule,” Branhan states. “In other areas as we start building new plants—the second plant will be mid [this] year—we will develop a partnership in different cities.”



Dynamic design

Branhan describes the 10-acre RTS layout as a “very large, very dynamic site.”

An administration building includes a scale where every incoming truck is weighed. The grounds also consist of a boiler room, maintenance operations, a tank farm that houses all ready-to-be-sold asphalt, as well as on-site silos for calcium carbonate and granules, all of which are part of a computer-controlled process, he says.

To get from one area to the next, several different sources of conveying are employed, from screw and bucket to drag and pneumatic.

Although Branhan is keeping quiet about the specifics of the equipment, he does point out that everything is kept inside for two reasons: to not pollute the atmosphere—with pollution or noise—and to protect maintenance workers during harsh Minnesota winters.

“The only thing outside are the shingles we use in our feedstock,” Branhan says. RTS will store shingle feedstock for up to three months piled inside a 12-foot chain-link fence with mesh screening.

To reduce the shingle size, RTS uses a machine from Rotochopper Inc., St. Martin, Minnesota. The shredded material travels to the extraction building, where the Crown Iron Works equipment is housed, including the solvent system, water purification system and a desolventizing system.

Branhan explains, “Since we use a solvent to dissolve the shingles, everything is going to be coated with that solvent. We can’t leave it on there so the desolventizing cooks the solvent off all of the systems; we recover it and reuse it. The solids go out bone dry with no odor or stickiness.”

The separation process breaks down the components of the shingles and returns them to the same standards of the raw component materials, according to RTS. From the time the feedstock starts on a conveyor to when it exits the separator is a two-hour process.

The continuous operation with 25 workers will run 24/7, 365 days a year, he says. Shutting the entire system down and starting it back up would not be time or cost effective.

Branhan adds, “You’ll see a significant change in shingles recycling and how it’s handled in cities where we bring our plants to.”


The author is associate editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at


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