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College of Natural Resources
phone: (208) 885-8981
toll free: 88-88-UIDAHO
fax: (208) 885-5534

875 Perimeter Drive MS 1142
Moscow, ID 83844-1142
Slash Pellets

Forest Products Students Explore New Economies for Plastic and Slash

The year’s curriculum has students focusing on making sustainable construction materials from recycled waste obtained from Coeur d’Alene and Boise landfills and recycling centers.

Students will gather recycled wood and plastics from these communities to make a new composite that could be used to make structural products such as outdoor furniture, signposts, playground equipment, or even speed bumps. The process will include exploring ways to mix plastics with wood fiber pellets to produce a suitable composite that can replace structures that ordinarily require chemically-treated lumber. Students also will interact with landfill managers and recycling companies to determine types of plastics and the volume produced.

“Our goal is to intercept a waste stream and turn it into a sustainable product,” said Tom Gorman, forest products professor. “We want to be aware of community needs and what forest product services are valuable to them.”

Gorman says the students’ research potentially could lead to a proposal for a new manufacturing facility that could process all waste plastics in one place and produce a sustainable product that’s sold within the state and region. Coeur d’Alene and Boise were selected as test sites because their landfills already contract with private wood recycling companies.

Another capstone class project led by Steve Shook and Armando McDonald will lead students in developing a clean energy wood pellet made from whole trees. Using whole-tree slash creates a lower cost wood pellet since the current raw material stream for producing wood pellet fuel, which is predominantly sawmill waste, is the same stream used by pulp and paper producers.

“The focus is on finding a solution for forest slash piles,” said Shook. “The idea is to condense material to make it easier to transport and use.”

The university’s experimental forest provides easy access for students to collect whole-tree slash, grind it, process it through a hammer mill, and then produce pellets. Students will analyze ash content and heat value, and how well the product holds its shape under vibration, which simulates transportation of the product to market. The final wood pellets can be burned in residential and commercial pellet or wood stoves. As a next step, students would pitch the idea of installing a hammer mill and pelletizing plant that produces this bio-based fuel to communities that are timber-dependent.

Natural resource students’ research may help policy makers make better informed decisions about local landscape planning and zoning in Benewah and Latah counties.

Tom Gorman, forest products professor, instructors Steve Shook and Armando McDonald are driving this effort with participation from CNR students within the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center in Costa Rica.