The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Is there Gold in that Wood Waste?

I own a small floor company, 25 employees. Among our services, we install, sand and finish new wood flooring and refinish existing wood floors. I have always wanted to do something with the waste we generate, mostly bags of sawdust, some from sanding old floors with finish, some from new flooring, much more oak than any other species.

How silly would it be to look into a chipper and pellet maker? I'm sure the oak sawdust from new flooring would burn fine, but what about oak dust from floors that had been finished?

I'm sure we don't have enough waste for a commercial enterprise but I'm wonder if we would be doing any good with just our waste?

Thanks for the question. Its a good one and one that many are asking. You're right, wood pellet production requires some volume to make sense, and most companies with a little wood waste don't have enough. Off the top of my head...

* Sanded wood dust probably has a problem with grit content. Commercial pellet producers need to produce a pellet that is as grit-free as possible, because the grit collects as "clinkers" in the pellet stoves. So I would imagine that commercial wood pellet producers will not show much interest in your wood waste.

* I don't think you're suggesting to use the chipper on old flooring that is being replaced, but again, if the volume is there, that is a possibility. Small chippers and pellet mills are not expensive.

* The most likely market for a combination of a small volume of wood chips, shavings, and wood dust is probably a chicken farmer. They use that material for their chicken farms and are being impacted by the increased demand for wood energy. They pay pretty good, and any amount of your wood they use will be that much less they compete against wood energy operations. Maybe a win/win/win there.

* Also consider wood mulch producers. They will probably buy your sawdust and scrap as is, but not for as much as the farmer, I think. Several folks have started their own mulch businesses based on their wood by-product.

* Consider a co-op with other flooring, furniture, and cabinet folks in the area. All tend to not have quite enough wood by-product for a commercial enterprise, but by pooling wood and investment maybe it can be done. Oh yes, don't forget pallet recyclers, they're in the same situation....

* If you're interested in making wood pellets just for your own use, there are small wood pelletizers on the market, and they work pretty well, if you're willing to do the work. Here's an interesting video of how it works, and how pellets can be made from many different types of biomass besides wood.

Good luck, and Go Wood!


Lew said...

Dust from sanding old floors that were finished might have another problem...EXPLOSION!!! A number of years ago a load of sander dust than contained finish was delivered to a MSW incinerator in Akron, OH. The resulting explosion killed one or two of the staff at the facility...

Charlie said...

I think it is important that there is a difference in using sawdust and materials from clean wood and flooring that has finishes or oterh contaminants. Most cannot use anything but clean wood waste and there are some species that are toxic to certain animals.