Feasibility Study

wood dust

An handful of the company's primary waste stream: plastic-laminated particleboard.

In the summer of 2006, I was hired by a large case goods manufacturer as an Engineering Co-Op student.  My initial perception of the facility was bewilderment.  At 300,000 sqft and 750 employees, this was certainly the largest facility I had ever worked at.  Due to their large size, they had a very sizeable wood waste stream.

Every year they spent about $1 million trucking away wood dust and chips to nearby landfills.  The company was becoming concerned about the cost and environmental impact of this waste management method, so they hired me to do a feasibility study looking at alternatives.

I investigated several potential technologies: Combined Heat & Power (CHP) plants, gassification, wood pelletizers, etc.  I also considered non-technological solutions such as bedding for horses at local farms.  Ultimately, the nature of the waste material restricted the feasible options.  The company’s primary raw material was plastic-laminated particleboard.  This meant it had phenol-based resins and plastics in it.  This level of contamination makes it unsuitable for animal bedding and if you want to burn it for power generation, you would be required by law to install expensive environmental controls technology at the smokestack.

At the end of the summer, it was a great experience to work for such a large and sophisticated manufacturer.  It also exposed me to a lot of new technologies that I was previously unaware of.  I wish the study could have yielded more optimistic recommendations, but at the end of the day you’ve got to be honest about the reality of the situation.

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