Case Studies

Air Cycle Corporation

From humble beginnings come great successes
  • Written by: Felicia Fox
  • Produced by: Ian Nichols
  • Estimated reading time: 5 mins

Founded in 1978 by Rick Beierwaltes, Air Cycle Corporation (ACC) surpassed its 35-year anniversary in 2013. Maintaining its niche of being a sustainable solutions and technologies company, ACC possesses a global sales presence from Illinois.

The company was originally founded as a designer and manufacturer of HVAC control systems, electronic lamp ballasts and advanced coffee dispensing equipment. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the company grew quickly; however, lost most of its sales overnight – literally – as its relationship with McDonald’s was lost due to cost-cutting measures. The company remained dormant for approximately five years before making its comeback.

In the early 1990s Rick developed the concept of crushing lamps. He saw an opportunity, and that is when the company built its first rudimentary drum-top crushers. Due to a well-received product, Rick’s son, Scott, then joined the company to champion the sales and marketing aspects of the business.

The original Bulb Eater drum-top crusher debuted in 1991; however, it did not have the filtration system. Therefore, in 1998, the filtration system was added to the model, fitted on a steel 55-gallon drum. At that point, the father and son team was confident – ready to press on.

ACC re-launched from the Beierwaltes’ home where production was done in a two-car garage and unfinished basement. Regardless of where the product was manufactured, the Beierwaltes were onto something.

ACC then nationally launched model 55 VRS Bulb Eater at the National Plant Engineering show in 1999. The product, which provides volume reduction of fluorescent lamps to aid in the recycling process, was named one of 17 Show Stoppers, becoming an immediate hit.

The same year, ACC added a nationwide pick-up service for crushed lamps generated from the Bulb Eater; Fluorecycle and Lighting Resources were initial recycling partners and the network has expanded to include 17 lamp waste processing facilities today.

From its humble beginnings in the Beierwaltes’ garage, ACC moved into a 6,000-square-foot manufacturing site in 2000, which at the time, felt enormous. However, ACC continued to expand and now boasts a 20,000-square-foot facility in Lisle, Illinois.

Air Cycle CorporationKeeping hazardous waste out of landfills

The company’s expansion is well-deserved, as ACC continues to capitalize on innovation. Both 2005 and 2006 brought further advancements. ACC created its EasyPak mail-in program and as an alternative recycling solution for customers wishing to recycle smaller quantities of lamps, ballasts, batteries and computer hardware.

The company’s bread and butter is complemented by ACC’s EasyPak program, which allows the program to fit various generators. “First, the customer can select containers, such as a lamp, ballast, batter, electronics or thermostat recycling containers,” details Tim Racke, COO of ACC. “Then, the container is filled and shipped using the pre-paid shipping label – a new container is shipped back to the customer immediately and a certificate of recycling is provided.”

However, ACC does not rest on its laurels. The company then launched the VaporShield container, which eliminates the need for a polyliner in the mail-back lamp boxes, to augment the EasyPak container program. This revolution simplifies loading and minimizes lamp breakage.

Most recently, in 2014, ACC introduced its next generation of drum-top crushing with the Bulb Eater 3, which incorporates Intelli Technology for improved machine diagnostics and predictive maintenance. The third-generation Bulb Eater saves up to 50 percent on a customer’s lamp recycling costs. “We have some customers who may generate 30 to 40 drums of lamp waste at a time,” Racke elaborates. “We broker that waste off to EPA-permitted facilities across the country.”

Because such a small percentage of lamp waste derives from households, ACC focuses on a niche market. “In general, there are 1 billion lamps disposed of each year,” Racke details. “About 5 percent of this is from households and 350 million is from schools, hospitals, government agencies, hotels, etc.”

ACC’s 25 employees, including the production team, administration, engineering, as well as sales and marketing personnel, are pressing forward with force. Currently, Florida and Texas are two of the company’s strongest markets. Nonetheless, ACC is looking to further expand its market presence and has recently established a relationship with a private United Arab Emirates-based company, Lamps4U, which will be distributing Bulb Eater and EasyPak products.

Green for a good cause

The company is truly doing its part in the green building movement. Another element of ACC’s sustainable solutions is the Enviropure system; the system reduces food waste to gray water, which can then be reused as-is or further treated. “The Enviropure system is a technology that we act as a distributor for,” Racke explains. “Within a 24-hour period, the system reduces the food to gray water, which can be recycled. Food in general is about 75 percent water to begin with – this keeps the weight and mass down, which in turn, keeps tipping fees and overall disposal costs down. Another added benefit is the reduction of methane gases produced by the decomposition of food waste in landfills.”

It is evident the ACC team is confident in its products, and with good reason. “We feel like we dominate the market from an equipment standpoint,” details Racke. “Although intact lamp transport and recycling is another viable method, crushing lamps via our Bulb Eater machines creates about a four to one space savings ratio when you crush and then have them transported in sealed drums. If facilities are constrained for space, we offer a space savings. Our entire process is really cradle-to-cradle, given that all of the lamp elements are re-used.”

Being the company’s third year attending the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo (Greenbuild), ACC’s belief in its products and services has only been solidified. “We had our Bulb Eater on display and we also had our Enviropure system featured,” Racke says of Greenbuild. “Much of what we displayed was relative to lamp recycling, but food waste reduction in solid waste landfills is becoming a growing issue with many states and municipalities.”

While ACC brings great innovation to Greenbuild, Racke acknowledges all ACC receives in return. “We view Greenbuild as a great opportunity to be present in the sustainability market and hopefully give us greater exposure to large corporations,” he elaborates. “It gives the opportunity to connect with sustainability professionals, particularly those involved in building operations and management.”

It is evident ACC has made its mark. Today there are over 10,000 Bulb Eaters worldwide, and over 100,000 EasyPak containers have been shipped. This has resulted in over 27 million recycled lamps; over 180,000 grams of recycled mercury; over 1.8 million pounds of recycled batteries; over 6.1 million pounds of ballasts that have been recycled; and over 3.6 million acres of protected water from mercury pollution.

According to Racke, LED lights are becoming a greater component in new buildings and cannot be processed by ACC’s machines, because it is treated similar to E-waste, such as computer hard drives. However, fluorescent light bulbs are becoming more efficient and have longer life. Therefore, there is still plenty of growth and interest in recycling these bulbs, which Racke and the ACC team are more than ready – and able – to tackle. Air Cycle Corporation proves that with innovation and drive, from humble beginnings come great success.

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Spring 2018



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