Wood Recycling Firms Shift Markets

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Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

In 1995, Apollo Wood & Metal was one of the many wood processors in southern California struggling to survive the downturn in the cogeneration business. Today, Apollo, located in Fontana (about 40 miles east of Los Angeles), is an entirely different company. It has a new name, Apollo Wood Recovery, and a different market: medium density fiberboard (MDF). In fact, the only thing that hasn’t changed is that the company still handles wood, although today, the volume is much greater. “When we bought the company in 1995, it was doing about 500 tons/month,” says Pat Heaney. “After we took over, we were able to increase it to between 2,000 and 3,000 tons/month.” Currently, Apollo handles 6,000 tons/month.

Just why Apollo would want to make such a dramatic jump in volume in the face of a weak wood market is really quite simple. It was able to secure an exclusive contract with an entirely new market.
About the time Heaney was acquiring Apollo, CanFibre, a part of the Canadian Kafus Group, was in the process of developing a facility in nearby Riverside that manufactures MDF. Apollo was fortunate to negotiate a contract with Canfibre to supply almost all of the wood the plant requires — about 140,000 tons/year.

The unique feature about the CanFibre plant is that it was designed to use “urban wood” as its principal feedstock. And with a need for 400 tons/day, the facility will be capable of consuming a major part of the available recovered wood supply when it becomes fully operational.

NOW COMES THE HARD PART

Having a contract in hand to supply almost 140,000 tons of wood is a real plum. The hard part is getting that much wood to CanFibre’s plant in Riverside. “The California Integrated Waste Management Board estimated that there are two million tons of scrap wood in this area, and only 20 percent is recycled,” says Heaney. “But we’re finding that it’s tough to find what we need.”

The disparity in what should be available, and what Apollo can attract at a price competitive with disposal options, has caused it to stretch its supply lines. “We’ve had to reach further geographically than we expected,” says Heaney. While 75 percent comes from sources within 40 miles of Fontana, it has had to go as far as 125 miles to get enough wood. “That hasn’t helped our economics,” he adds.

The CanFibre process doesn’t require any particular grade or species of wood; however, it can’t utilize green waste, nor can it use painted or treated wood. “Our biggest suppliers are furniture, cabinet and pallet manufacturers,” says Heaney. Another major source are companies that build roof trusses. The next level down are non-wood using companies that have wood residuals as a by-product of their operation. “There are a lot of warehouses around here that have to throw out pallets and crating,” he explains. “Another source is new home construction.”

For these types of suppliers, Apollo provides roll-off service, which also has been a challenge. “We currently have seven roll-off units,” says Heaney. “But as CanFibre gets to capacity, we’ll need more. And it’s a six- month wait for the vehicles.” Even now, Apollo’s fleet can’t service all of its clients, and contracts with two haulers to provide additional service.

Currently, about 65 percent of the wood Apollo supplies to CanFibre comes from its roll-off service. Because Can-Fibre wants only unprocessed wood (so it can ensure quality control), Apollo’s roll-offs go directly from the generator to the plant. Apollo relies on the waste industry for the remaining 35 percent of the wood it needs. Wood from the haulers first is culled for contaminants before going to the MDF plant. “Between 80 and 90 percent of what we get from the haulers goes to CanFibre,” says Heaney.

The sorting operation isn’t anything sophisticated. A hauler’s load, which averages about six tons, is dumped on the ground and spread out with Bobcats. Four or five workers pick through the material, pulling out metals, painted and treated wood, and other contaminants. Acceptable wood is loaded onto Apollo trucks and goes to the CanFibre plant. The rejects are sent to the landfill. “That part gets expensive,” says Heaney. “Tipping fees are $30 to $35/ton around here.”

RETAINING OTHER MARKETS

Although Apollo is focused primarily on providing CanFibre with the wood it needs, the company hasn’t entirely abandoned the boiler fuel market.

“We still need that market,” says Heaney, noting that as with any manufacturing operation, there are fluctuation in production and times when he Can Fibre plant will be down for maintenance. “But we still have to make sure we have enough wood when they need it.” To maintain that flow, Apollo collects wood from the generators, whether CanFibre needs it or not.

Although CanFibre doesn’t want its wood processed, the cogeneration plants do, so Apollo has to do some grinding to meet their specifications. Originally, the company used a vertical hammermill for processing, but with the move to its new site, that unit was sold. Plans call for the purchase of two horizontal grinders, but in the interim, Heaney is contracting out the grinding to USA Biomass, a firm that handles green waste (primarily from the utility industry), and the owners of the site where Apollo recently set up shop.

TENNESSEE COMPANY MAKES MARKET SHIFT

Wood processors in California aren’t the only ones that have had to scramble to find buyers when a major market like a cogenerator stops accepting material. Several years ago, Alternative Energy LLC of Nashville, Tennessee was forced to find a new market for almost 250 tons/day of wood when the cogeneration facility at the Jack Daniels Distillery stopped buying its ground wood.

Alternative Energy started in May, 1996, spurred into action by a University of Tennessee study that illustrated the potential for making value-added products from urban wood. The company developed a five- acre facility in Nashville, and started processing wood residuals, primarily chips from utility companies and pallets, crating and cut-offs from industrial sources.

“We take wood in for about half the cost of landfills,” says Terry Reeves of Alternative Energy. Aside from the chipper leftovers, which are brought in by the tree trimming crews, the company provides a collection service for wood from industry, putting out both trailers and roll-offs for customers.

When it lost the market at Jack Daniels, the company started to produce mulch, as well as bulking agent for biosolids composting. The bulking agent goes to Alternative Energy’s sister company, Show Me Farms, which is composting the biosolids from Davidson County.

Last year, the remainder of the ground wood was sold to a company that colorized it and sold it as mulch. However, in 2000, Alternative Energy is going into the coloring business. “Right now we have 100 cubic yard lots of colored mulch on site and it goes real well,” says Reeves. “The retail price is between $30 and $35/cubic yard.”

The company uses a two-stage grinding operation to produce both of its products. Initially, the wood is put through a 600 hp Grundler vertical hammermill, which produces a four-inch minus product. After that initial grinding, it goes onto a conveyor where overhead cross magnets pull off tramp metal. Then it goes through another vertical mill, where it is sized to two-inch minus, and drops onto another conveyor and under another magnet. From there it goes directly into trailers and is taken off site. By Jim Glenn.

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