Diversifying the destination of sawmill waste to the wood panel industry

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With the upswing in the construction sector in Canada and the United States, the supply of chips produced by Quebec sawmills is greater than the demand, creating large surpluses in various regions of the province.

In addition, the wood panel industry is facing a number of challenges associated with the constant procurement of raw materials, which relate to the quantity and quality of the supply. Faced with this situation, a major Quebec manufacturer in the particle board sector seeking to diversify its sources of supply has partnered with FPInnovations to help it achieve this objective.

FPInnovations' employees have evaluated various options that can be implemented in the short and medium term to produce—from sawmill rejects—the wafers desired by the particle board industry. Two options have proven promising following design studies and tests on production equipment, whether canter heads during secondary breakdown to produce wafers or a two-step process to process solid wood by-products into wafers.

To produce chips, some mills in Quebec have cylindrical chipping heads that are used during secondary breakdown operations. A typical Quebec SPF sawmill and a cutting tool manufacturer have joined forces with FPInnovations to demonstrate the feasibility of such a concept to produce a type of wafer for the particle board industry. FPInnovations' staff determined the new cylindrical head configurations required to produce wafers of the desired size and shape for the particle board manufacturer. These new cutting configurations were then tested on cants at the partner mill during the winter of 2017-2018, by adjusting the feed rates of the cants to simulate optimal configurations and produce wafers for particle-size analysis.

The results of these tests were very positive: the wafers produced were perfectly in line with the particle board manufacturer's dimensional requirements, with an acceptance rate of over 95% for the wafers intended for the core of the panel. This new technological configuration would allow a mill to ship 8,000 to 15,000 anhydrous metric tons (AMT) of wafers, depending on the mill's annual production volume, to a particle board manufacturer. Depending on the investment scenarios required and the sawmill operating conditions, a return on investment within 5 to 8 months is foreseeable.

The second wafer production option was to evaluate an existing two-step European process in collaboration with two Quebec SPF sawmills and an equipment manufacturer. This wafering process consists of first transforming the rejected logs and slabs into "maxi chips", longer and thicker chips than those usually used in the pulp and paper industry, and then converting them using a knife ring flaker already available in particle board mills. This two-step process is in fact well suited to sawmills, which will need a drum chipper adjusted to the required configuration.

Two test campaigns proved the feasibility of the process in question on existing equipment. Based on the results obtained, 75% – 80% of the wafers produced met the specifications of the particle board manufacturer. In the face of declining demand for chips for paper making, this option would allow a few sawmills producing between 65,000 and 75,000 TMA of chips to sell 8,000 to 15,000 AMT of wafers annually. For this option, depending on the investment scenarios required and the operating conditions of the mill, a return on investment within a 12-16 month time horizon is conceivable.

In summary, the proposed technologies will give Quebec sawmills a number of opportunities for diversifying their by-product offerings, while providing particle board manufacturers with solutions to secure new sources of supply.

Further information may be obtained by contacting William Tropper, Senior Scientist in FPInnovations' Advanced Wood Manufacturing team.

FPInnovations would like to thank the Quebec government's Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs and Ministère de l'Économie, de la Science et de l'Innovation as well as its partners Pallmann, Keyknife, Cédrico, Matériaux Blanchet and Scierie Landrienne, who took part in this project to help the lumber industry add value to the mill by-products.

Source: FPInnovations