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From wood waste to value-added.

Researchers at Lakehead University are fine-tuning a value-adding process to agriculture and forest waste that's almost akin to converting water into wine.

Through a technology developed at the Thunder Bay campus, faculty in their chemical engineering and forestry programs say natural resins extracted from biomass can be used as bonding agents for engineered wood products such as plywood, medium density fibreboard and laminates.


In August, their research work received $49,500 from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. (NOHFC). The money is earmarked to further develop the technology and eventually proceed with large scale testing.

Chemical engineering professor Dr. Charles Xu says the project looks at producing phenol-formaldehyde resin from forestry biomass and agricultural residue such as sawdust, wood chips, bark, pulp and paper residue, wheat straw and corn stalks.

Also in the mix is testing a waste produced from corn ethanol production called DDG (distillers dried grains).

"Those will be some of the raw material we are going to use to do the resin production," says Xu.

"We can prove the technology we are going to develop is feasible."

Eventually, it's hoped these could replace more expensive resins produced from the petrochemical process.

The extraction process involves liquifying the forestry and agriculture waste. To make resins from the feedstock, they add formaldehyde.

"The liquid contains phenolic compound," says Xu, "plus other components from the biomass. We want to analyse the compounds."

Over the next three years, they'll use government funding to more fully develop the technology before moving on to the pilot scale stage.

Thus far, they've raised $400,000 from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs along with NOHFC and FedNor for the research stage and Xu says they're also looking for private sector support.

The wood waste is provided by Thunder Bay-area companies, Northern Wood and Superior Thermowood, with pulp and paper sludge coming from the local Bowater plant.

The project is part of Lakehead's ongoing research to find ways to efficiently convert forest waste and industry by-products such as mill sludge, sawdust and harvest residues into bio-fuels, bio-resins and other high-value chemical feedstocks.

Dr. Xu and forestry scientist Mathew Leitch are part of a team assembling equipment for a green energy laboratory. They aim to produce new fuels and energy products from northwestern Ontario's huge potential of biomass energy and make the forestry industry more competitive by using renewable energy.

Their work has raised more than $330,000 in grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation for the specially-equipped lab.


Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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