NAHUNTA, GA. | Although he was speaking in his native Italian to an American audience, one of inventor Domenico Tanfoglio’s words needed no translation as he spoke Tuesday at the opening of a $5 million plant in Nahunta.
The word “problema” was likely understood as the reason Cox Enterprises built the Golden Isles Conservation Center to use Tanfoglio’s technology to reduce 80,000 tires a year into their original, marketable components.
“I wanted to find a way to turn wastes into a positive,” according to his speech translated by an interpreter.
He said the Cox family is known for doing the right thing for the environment. “Today is a dream for me,” he said.
The plant will process the scraps of 480 tires per day, heating them to about 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit to break them down. Every 450 pounds of scraps will produce about 150 pounds of oil, 150 pounds of carbon black, 100 pounds of gas and 31 pounds of steel, officials said.
The plant will also burn some wood, but that is mostly to get the process started. Once gas begins cooking off, it will be used to fuel the furnaces that heat the tires in oxygen-free chambers so they don’t ignite.
Cox Chief Operating Officer Alex Taylor said the company, which began as a newspaper company in 1898, is passionate about the environment. “We love trying new things and investing in the future,” he said.
Taylor, who chairs the board of American Rivers, said he likes to be outdoors. “I come across tires all the time, out in the rivers and out in the woods,” he said.
Taylor said he understands why because there’s not much people can do with old tires except pay someone to dispose of them.
“Let’s hope this turns into something big and exciting,” he said.
He noted earlier that Cox is still a media and telecommunications company but said it has branched out into other things.
Company spokeswoman Elizabeth Olmstead said the company, which has $20 billion in revenue, has expanded into the auto industry with its ownership of Kelley Blue Book, Auto Trader and vehicle auctions around the world.
The Golden Isles Conservation Center is the result of the company’s examination of the effect its businesses have on the environment, Olmstead said.
“We saw that tires have an impact globally,” she said.
Through its auto businesses, Cox is responsible for about 80,000 tires a year, and the Nahunta plant will turn that many into marketable products, officials said.
Steel is among the most recycled substances in the world, carbon black can be used in inks, plastics and possibly new tires and the oil can be used in automotive products, she said. The gas will be used to fuel the plant, all with no emissions, she said.
“We’re looking at this as a [research and development] center,” Olmstead said. “We hope to look at other waste streams.”
Joe Carr, a member of the Brantley County Development Authority, credits former Brantley County Commissioner Mike Edgy and County Manager Carl Rowland with working to keep Cox in Brantley County.
“This wouldn’t be here without Mike Edgy and Carl Rowland,” he said. “[Edgy] fought hard for this.”
Richard Thornton, executive director of the development authority, said that although five jobs aren’t many, the county is grateful.
“We appreciate them when we get them,” Thornton said, especially high-tech positions that pay well.
“This is the first time [the technology] has been used in the U.S., and Brantley County will be the first place,” he said.
“We hope it’s the initial step” and hope it attracts other investors to the county, Thornton said.
Edgy said he is hopeful a company that wants to build a waste-to-energy plant in the Waynesville area will be able to locate in Brantley County.
“We need to stop burying our trash,” Edgy said.
Local residents can get their own look at the facility in April at an open house.