Soy Fiber Based Plant Starts Up
Agristrand Mankato, LLC reports that production has commenced at its 160,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Mankato, Minn. Agristrand is a manufacturer of “eco-friendly” soy fiber based soyboard and soycore and says its fiber is regionally sourced, annually renewable and products contain no added formaldehyde (NAF).
The manufacturing facility was purchased in November 2011, and has undergone major transformations with the addition of a proprietary fiber processing plant and many upgrades and improvements to produce a fully automated production line. The plant is currently rated at 40MMSF production capacity.
Agristrand will be taking advantage of this upcoming soybean harvest and is working with producers on best practices to harvest a superior fiber for its niche board production. The soy straw is a waste product as a result of the soybean harvest and would typically be chopped and redistributed onto the field. Agristrand’s soy acquisition team is contracting with farmers for approximately 45,000 acres of baled soy straw from an area within a 75 mile radius of Mankato.
Agristrand Mankato, LLC is the embodiment of many years of research and development. It began when four company founders, Thomas Neel, Timothy McDermott, William Priestly and Barry Monahan, began looking for an ag-fiber based alternative to wood based OSB as the market began to fluctuate in 2005. Many agricultural fiber alternatives were explored including corn, wheat and soy straw. Significant time was spent evaluating each fiber’s makeup then deciding that soy was the best alternative based on preliminary study. The founders determined which processes best matched the benefits of soy and oversaw a commercial run on full sized equipment. They concluded there was merit to finding a way to produce a composite board product utilizing soy fiber in a full scale commercial facility.
Company representatives, as well as forest product consultants, spent time at the USDA’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis. to better define the processes for conditioning the fiber. Under the watchful eye of forest industry professionals a higher value soy fiber based MDF and particleboard was made realizing excellent properties. It was determined that conditioned soy fiber would perform very well based on the proprietary process utilized by Agristand.
Determining that the startup of a greenfield project was out of reach given the then economic times, the company began soliciting input from larger producers of particleboard and MDF interested in the possibility of utilizing soy fiber as an additive, or blend, with wood fiber. In late 2010, Company President Neel was approached by a representative of the bondholders of the recently shuttered facility in Mankato, Minn., which had manufactured a wheat fiber composite board product.
Agristrand Biocomposites, LLC began evaluating the opportunity and the possibility of converting the plant from wheat to soy and ultimately decided to pursue it. The location boasts a potential fiber source of 1.2 million acres within a 75 mile radius of the plant. Agristrand Mankato, LLC was born and acquired the assets of the board plant facility. There was considerable cleaning, deferred maintenance and upgrades to make the changeover to a soy based composite board product.
Today Agristrand Mankato, LLC reports it is the only manufacturer in North America of soy fiber based particleboard and door core products. “We have successfully meshed the interests of the nearby agricultural community with the interests of the building products industry,” the company states. “We have done this by employing people with agricultural experience as well as those from the composite board industry. With the inclusion of our proprietary front end conditioning equipment and methodology we are able to utilize a process that is similar to a typical board plant.”
Agristrand’s goal is to be a top quality producer of ag-fiber based particleboard and door core products. “Within this industry niche market we have found widespread support and interest from customers requesting ‘green’ alternatives,” the company states. “In today’s competitive environment the importance of supplying a sustainable product as a viable, competitive option is important.”