Company tries to pick up the pieces as $10.5 million Liberty Mutual lawsuit rumbles on

Recycling plant opened by Al Gore has not yet met its targets

Company tries to pick up the pieces as $10.5 million Liberty Mutual lawsuit rumbles on

Insurance News

By Lyle Adriano

A recycling plant that has received investment from the likes of Al Gore and the state of Arkansas has not yet met the targets it set in 2014.

Osceola, AR-based BlueOak Arkansas – which touted itself as the nation’s first “urban mining” electronic waste recycling plant – was meant to salvage gold, silver, copper and other metals from discarded cellphones, computer circuit boards and other electronics. The plant was to accomplish this through an “environmentally-friendly” high-temperature electric plasma furnace with the aim of recycling up to 15 million pounds of electronic scrap in its first year.

“If you want to get 10 ounces of gold from ore, you have to mine 100 tons, but you can also get 10 ounces of gold from 1 ton of used [computer] circuit boards,” explained Al Gore in an earlier statement on how the plant works. Gore is a partner in a venture capital firm that invested in the parent company of BlueOak Arkansas.

“Osceola has literally struck gold today,” the former vice-president added.

#BlueOak brings urban mining to Arkansas for domestic e-waste recovery @DavidBakerSF @SFGate

— Mission Control Communications (@MissionC2) June 11, 2014

Congratulations #BlueOak Arkansas on your groundbreaking today! Welcome to the area! #Osceola #MissCo #GreatThings

— Osceola/SMC Chamber (@OSMCChamber) June 11, 2014

“[The company] has not yet reached those targets,” BlueOak Arkansas CEO Ahab Garas told Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

On November 16, 2015, a leak developed in BlueOak’s furnace system. BlueOak’s insurer, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance, claimed in a lawsuit that molten metal seeped from the hardware, spreading across the plant and causing a fire.

“The molten metal breakout destroyed the furnace and resulted in fire, heat, and smoke damage to the concrete slab formation supporting the furnace, as well as damaging (or) destroying electrical and filtration equipment, hydraulic cylinders, hoses, wiring, and conduits associated with the plasma recovery system,” the lawsuit read.

“Thank God, no lives or limbs were lost, but it was a catastrophic failure,” Garas remarked.

Liberty Mutual named RHI US Limited as the defendant in the lawsuit, seeking more than $10.5 million that it had paid to BlueOak Arkansas for the claim; BlueOak is not a party to the lawsuit.

The trial has been set for early 2020 in the US District Court in Jonesboro.

But while BlueOak has received a second furnace since the incident, Garas declined to comment on how the installation of that furnace is coming along. The CEO, however, noted that the company still has plans to recycle electronics in Osceola, and that it has signed a strategic agreement with an offshore partner that would help improve BlueOak Arkansas’ productivity.

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