The Year Of The Composite Board

Plywood mill and OSB mill project startups in the U.S. have received a lot of attention during the past couple of years, and more are forthcoming this year, but 2019 has all the makings as the year of the composite board. Three upcoming board mill startups—with one occurring in each of the first three quarters—come quickly to mind.

Arauco is currently pushing through commissioning toward first quarter startup of its $400 million greenfield particleboard plant in Grayling, Mich. Situated on 160 acres, the 820,000 sq. ft. main building houses a 10 ft. wide by 172 ft. (52.5 m) continuous press and will produce more than 450MMSF annually, complemented by two lamination lines. Log intake began last September.

One of the cool things about this project is that Arauco has been very visible with its progress, sending out periodic updates with site photography and the status of equipment installation.

Swiss Krono is probably looking at a second quarter startup of its new $230 million HDF plant at Barnwell, SC. It’s expected to produce 170MMSF annually beyond what the existing plant there already produces. The new line will also operate a continuous press—this one 10 ft. by 101 ft. (30.5 m). The project has also added a fourth lamination line.

Expected to hit startup in the third quarter is the greenfield CalPlant I (CalAg) rice straw-based MDF plant in Willows, Calif. The $315 million plant will have a production capacity of 140MMSF annually.

Wait. Did I just say rice straw? I did, and it makes me think back to the mid 1990s when ag fiber surged out of the gate—the premise being that instead of farmers burning their crop waste and contributing to carbon dioxide and smoky haze, they could actually sell their waste to board manufacturers.

I visited several of those plants during startup back then—the PrimeBoard wheat straw particleboard plant in Wahpeton, ND; the Isobord wheat straw p’board plant in Elie, Manitoba; the Acadia Board sugar bagasse board plant in New Iberia, La. Prairie Forest Products started up a wheat straw board plant in Hutchinson, Kans. Some other companies built them and some companies announced they were planning to build them but never did.

Why did they fail? Expensive resin? Poor machinery? Weak market promotion and distribution? The scientists got it wrong?

It was about this time that the CalAg principals began researching rice straw MDF, following California state legislation that prohibited farmers from burning rice straw waste. CalAg never gave up on it, through years of trying to tie the financing shoestring but never able to tighten the loops.

At least not until last May, when the money did come together—the majority of it in revenue bonds and the rest in cash equity with an assortment of investors. This plant, too, will operate a continuous press—10 ft. by 116 ft. (35.4 m). The plant will process 275,000 tons of rice straw annually.

Maybe where others failed, this ag fiber plant has a strong sales agent going in, namely Columbia Forest Products, which was one of the minority investors.

Maybe all of those problems from 20 years ago have been solved.

Article by Rich Donnell,

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