Safely scrapped

By and |  December 10, 2013

New propane tank processor addresses disposal of 20-lb. cylinders.

Safety concerns associated with the disposal of 20-lb. propane cylinders lead most scrapyards to refuse the tanks.

And while the propane industry urges consumers to contact a propane company to properly dispose of cylinders, condemned tanks continue to make their way into scrapyards.

“Most of the scrapyards that do accept tanks process them unsafely,” says Gaetano Bortoletti, vice president of Colmar USA, a recycling equipment manufacturer based in Wheatfield, N.Y. “Some of them wait for a windy day and cut them with a shear. Others put them under water and cut them with a shear.”

To address these problems, Colmar USA has designed a propane tank processor, which was created to allow scrapyards to safely recycle 20-lb. propane cylinders. The portable unit was on display in April at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Convention & Exposition in Orlando, Fla.

“We established Colmar USA in 2004, and our customers are scrapyards,” Bortoletti says. “In working with the yards, we realized that they had problems handling propane tanks. We found out that most of our customers don’t accept them because they are too dangerous.”

Cylinders that aren’t disposed of properly still may contain propane.

“We realized that, if we could find a way to allow [scrapyards] to accept them safely, they would be able to increase their business,” Bortoletti adds.

The propane tank processor automatically positions the cylinder to check for and then remove any remaining pressure inside the tank. The tank valve is removed, and any remaining vapor is purged. After the vapor has been purged, the tank is washed with water and crushed to make it ready for recycling. According to Colmar USA, the propane tank processor can crush about 30 cylinders per hour (one every two minutes).

Safety functions include mechanical ventilation in the processing chamber; automatic fire suppression; and automatic emergency stop functions.

The equipment features a two-cylinder Kohler gasoline engine, 38 horsepower at 3600 rpm, and a 25-gallon fuel tank capacity. The compacting cylinder has a maximum force of 85,000 lbs. The equipment, which weighs about 10,000 lbs., has an overall length of about 21 ft., a width of 8 ft. and a height of almost 9 ft.

“When we came up with the idea, we thought it would be relatively easy to design and build,” Bortoletti says. “However, as we got more involved in the design process, we realized it would be more complex and challenging than we thought.”

There were several reasons for this. The company wanted to make sure the equipment contained all of the necessary safety features and that it would be completely automatic. Another challenge was taking into account the propane industry’s many tank sizes. Currently, the equipment is designed only for 20-lb. cylinders.

“We are already receiving a lot of interest from scrapyards, and we are looking forward to soon being able to do some demonstrations,” Bortoletti says. “We hope to have the equipment available by the end of August.”

Colmar’s current market focus is on scrapyards, but that may change.

“If we find other markets, such as the propane industry itself, we will promote it to them, too,” he says.

Colmar is also studying a solution that would allow the equipment to recover and store any propane remaining in the tanks.

“This would allow the scrapyard to use the recovered gas, such as for running their forklifts,” Bortoletti says.

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