Green Steam

Features - Cover Story

Carpet and flooring manufacturer Shaw Industries uses waste-to-energy technology to power its Georgia production facilities.

September 7, 2012
Brian Taylor

The spacious and productive manufacturing plants operated by Shaw Industries Group in Dalton, Ga., are a major reason why north Georgia is considered the heart of the American carpet and flooring industry.

Shaw, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., employs 24,000 people worldwide, many of them at its offices and manufacturing plants in Dalton.

For more than 10 years, Shaw has been exploring and investing in resource- and energy-saving technologies, in part so it can as produce Cradle to Cradle Certified™ flooring products.

Among the alternative energy sources deployed have been two waste-to-energy plants fueled in part by discarded carpeting.

Wall to Wall
Shaw has its customers covered when it comes to flooring. The company manufactures carpet, rugs, hardwood, laminate and ceramic tile flooring as well as synthetic sports turf for residential and commercial markets globally.

Manufacturing and distributing so many types of flooring on a mass production scale inevitably entails the need for considerable amounts of energy.

Both as a way to keep this major budget line item in check and to meet environmental stewardship goals, Shaw has turned to waste-to-energy systems at many of its Dalton facilities.

According to Shaw Industries Director – Operations Support Jay Henry, “In support of our energy efficiency and waste reduction efforts, we developed two processes that provide steam energy for three Dalton-based manufacturing facilities.”

The first was developed in 2005 through a partnership with Siemens Building Technologies, Atlanta, says Henry. He describes that plant as a “waste-to-energy (WTE) gasification facility fueled by a mixture of wood/laminate dust and carpet manufacturing waste.”

Henry adds, “Shaw’s WTE [was] the first large-scale, commercially viable alternative to landfilling this type of waste in the industry.”

Shaw’s second WTE project has allowed it to tap into the post-consumer discarded carpet stream as feedstock. “Re2E (Reclaim to Energy), our second initiative, [which] started in 2010, is the world’s first energy facility fueled totally by reclaimed post-consumer carpet and carpet production waste,” says Henry. “Both facilities ultimately create steam for use in their adjacent carpet dyeing plants, but Re2E is designed to co-generate electricity, as well.”

Shaw Industries does not have to look far for feedstock for the first WTE system. “Historically, the carpet, wood, and laminate manufacturing processes all generate post-industrial waste, including selvedge (fabric edges and fringes), seam waste and wood and laminate flooring waste known as wood flour,” says Henry. “In our gasification plant we utilize a mixture of wood flour and selvedge and seam waste from our carpet plants.”

The two systems combined have served to divert significant amounts of material from the landfill.

“In 2011, our WTE gasification plant converted around 18 million pounds [9,000 tons] of wood waste and 15 million pounds [7,500 tons] of carpet into steam and our Re2E facility converted over 20 million pounds [10,000 tons] of carpet during its startup phase,” says Henry. “At full capacity, Re2E is expected to consume over 80 million pounds [40,000 tons] of carpet materials annually.”

Henry also says the two systems have not been established to take advantage of government subsidies or funding, but instead stand on their own two feet as part of Shaw’s corporate strategy.

“At Shaw, we focus on business models that are hopefully neither dependent upon nor vulnerable to legislative changes,” he comments. “Shaw is able to invest for the long term and to view that investment in the larger context of our manufacturing footprint,” adds Henry.

Closing the Loop
Flooring manufacturers have long put time, thinking and investments into improving the landfill diversion rate for end-of-life carpet. The Re2E system has been one way for Shaw Industries to make progress on that front. The investment Shaw has made in Re2E has included purchases of capital equipment and the establishment of a collection and transportation network.

Power Plays

The gasification and refuse-derived fuel plants established by Shaw Industries, Dalton, Ga., serve the dual purpose of closing the loop on some types of waste and scrap and helping to power the considerable manufacturing space the company operates in Dalton.

One gasification facility was built in 2005 and is fueled by wood and laminate dust and carpet manufacturing scrap. The second waste-to-energy (WTE) system, installed in 2010, is known as Re2E and it touted by Shaw Industries as “the world’s first energy facility fueled totally by reclaimed post-consumer carpet and carpet production waste,” according to Shaw Industries Director – Operations Support Jay Henry.

“Both facilities ultimately create steam for use in their adjacent carpet dyeing plants, but Re2E is designed to co-generate electricity, as well,” says Henry. This electricity, he adds, is “used to help power its own fuel preparation process.”

Regarding production capacity, “Re2E is designed to provide 292,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month (3.5 million kWh per year) and both facilities are each designed to provide 24 million pounds of steam per month (288 million per year),” says Henry.

Each system also has been designed for flexibility, according to Henry. “If we ever need to change the fuel types, both energy plants have been designed to be convertible to other fuels.”

Should feedstock pours into the Re2E system at increased volumes, it will not cause a dilemma for Shaw Industries. “From an expansion perspective, we designed Re2E to be doubled in capacity, and if it supports our business to grow there, we will,” states Henry.

“In our Re2E plant, whole carpet goes through two shredding processes to convert it into a fluffy blend of short fibers,” says Henry. “Add to that extensive metal separation, dust collection and contaminant (filler and dirt) removal processes, and the fuel ends up being a very effective substitute for fossil-based fuels. We convey the fuel with various technologies from belted conveyors to augers.”

Among the equipment helping prepare materials for conversion are three low-speed, high-torque shredders from Vecoplan LLC, Archdale, N.C., along with an accompanying electrical controls package.

The single-shaft Vecoplan shredders help prepare the diverse material heading into the waste conversion systems to make it more uniform and dense for the gasification process.

Before incoming material can be prepared and used as feedstock, it first has to be identified and diverted from the waste stream so it can be shipped to Dalton.

“Over the past few years, we’ve formed partnerships with materials collectors (often entrepreneurs and small businesses) at locations across the U.S. to help us collect commercial and residential post-consumer carpet for recycling,” says Henry. “In addition, we also work directly with large commercial customers to help reclaim and recycle the carpet they no longer need.”

When new Shaw carpeting is installed, the company provides installers with several re-use and recycling options for the carpeting being replaced.

“Ultimately, sustainability is about one thing: ensuring the choices we make and the actions we take as individuals and as an organization are good for people, good for our planet, and good for business,” states Paul Murray, Shaw’s vice president of sustainability

“Our strategy is to enable the best use of all these materials, whether recycling back into new carpet, conversion into plastic or utilization as energy,” says Henry. Our broad portfolio of recycling options helps carpet recycling be sustainable from a social, economic and environmental perspective.”

Now, among the possibilities is that it can be shipped to feed the Re2E system in Dalton. “Regardless of brand, when a customer installs Shaw carpet in their office or institution, we’ll reclaim their used carpet, then (depending upon the carpet’s ingredient materials) find the highest and best channel for reusing or recycling the post-consumer product,” says Henry.

“On average, 85 percent of what we reclaim is recycled into new carpet, and some of what we reclaim is also recycled into other products,” he continues. “Knowing that, in some cases, however, the material we reclaim cannot be feasibly recycled, we also recognized an opportunity to utilize this material as fuel at our Re2E facility. And, if we ever need to change the fuel types, both energy plants have been designed to be convertible to other fuels.”

The Big Picture
The energy-from-waste systems in Dalton are part of a larger commitment to environmental stewardship, says Henry.

“Shaw’s commitment to Sustainability through Innovation™, the Shaw Green Edge®, includes measurable goals for improving safety and reducing energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), water consumption and waste to landfill,” notes Henry.

“We use Cradle to Cradle design and product certification to guide our product development, design and manufacturing and end-of-life stewardship, including: ingredient materials selection, energy and water quality and efficiency, social responsibility and designing products so that they can be reclaimed and recycled at the end of their useful lives,” he adds. Henry refers to Cradle to Cradle certification as “one of the world’s most rigorous sustainable product standards.”

Shaw Industries’ pursuit of that certification has led to the creation of several products, says Henry. “More than 10 years ago, Shaw pioneered Cradle to Cradle Certified™ flooring products with the introduction of PVC-free, 100 percent-recyclable EcoWorx® carpet tile with Eco Solution Q® Nylon 6 fiber.”

Henry says the network that has been established by Shaw to collect end-of-life carpet is an important part of that mission. “Shaw’s role as the world’s largest collector and recycler of post-consumer carpet is another very significant aspect of our sustainability leadership,” he comments. “Shaw has recycled more than half a billion pounds of post-consumer carpet since 2006—turning an average ofaverage of 85 percent of it back into new carpet.

“When we cannot turn carpet back into carpet, we sell the raw material to manufacturers of other products,” Henry continues.

“When that’s not possible because of the ingredient mix of the materials, we use it to fuel Re2E, the first energy generation facility powered exclusively by post-consumer carpet,” he adds.

The company has adhered to a hierarchy espoused by many recycling advocates, with waste reduction, carpet re-use and then recycling all higher on the chain than energy recovery—but with energy recovery in place as that last important step to divert material from the landfill.

“From that perspective, Re2E not only supports our profitability by providing an efficient form of energy, it adds value for our customers and communities by preventing carpet from reaching the landfill,” states Henry.

“All of our energy-related efforts, from efficiency initiatives to generation, support the triple bottom line of sustainability: good for people, good for the planet, and good for business. We continue to invest in our energy conversion facilities to constantly improve efficiency, value and environmental footprint.”

The author is editorial director of Renewable Energy from Waste and can be contacted at