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A Quick— and Clean—Fix

Taiga Forest Products has incorporated a new fixing system into its new plants in BC and Alberta.

By Paul MacDonald

When the go-ahead was given to relocate the existing Taiga Forest Products wood preservation plant in British Columbia—and also set up a brand new plant for Taiga in Alberta—the planning process on the part of the company was already well under way. And that’s probably just as well. Like their counterparts in the woods, the mill and processing side of the forest industry is finding itself under increasing environmental scrutiny. A case in point is Taiga’s new $5.5 million plant in Langley, BC, just east of Vancouver. Andrew Hobbs, Taiga’s manager of wood preservation, explains that the municipality of Langley was primarily seeking high tech industries for an industrial park. "When the thought of a wood preservation plant was raised, I think the municipality went, ‘Oh, no’," says Hobbs. "But then when they saw what we were proposing, and the work and planning that went into it, they were fine." Things have changed substantially for mills and processing plants over the last 20 years, especially if they are located near, or in, urban areas.

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Taiga’s Andrew Hobbs (above) with the company’s rebranded "Envirofor" wood product. The new technology the company is using in its BC and Alberta wood preservation plants virtually eliminates the potential for chemical leaching in the life of the wood products.

While mills in rural areas may not face quite the same level of scrutiny, the industry essentially has been told by all levels of government that they must clean up their act or else. And there are all kinds of factors and influences at play that weren’t even in the picture in the past. In the case of Taiga, they had to research bird life on their site to make sure there were no endangered species and do an archeological dig at a cost of $50,000—to satisfy the local First Nations groups that the land involved no sacred sites. But rather than looking at all this as a hurdle, the company chose to see it as an opportunity. "We’ve got a chance to do things the right way right from the start," says Hobbs. "Both in Langley and at our new plant in Edmonton, we were able to build facilities that satisfied the authorities, incorporate the absolute latest in technology and introduce a new ‘green’ treated wood product to the market."

Hobbs, a veteran of the wood treatment business and the current president of the Canadian Association of Wood Preservation, says he and the company are pleased with the end result two "squeakyclean" wood treatment plants. On the operational side, the Langley plant, and its $7million sister plant in Alberta, are using what Hobbs terms groundbreaking technology that is used by only two other plants in North America. This new technology virtually eliminates the potential for any later chemical leaching in the product’s life. Taiga is working to make this a selling feature to their customers and the end users, the people putting in that backyard to deck or fence. It has spurred the company to rebrand its product—the new name is Envirofor—and it hopes to appeal to the "green market" of the customers it wholesales product to. Their product ranges from 2 inch dimensional lumber to 4x4 lumber, 4x6 timbers and some plywood and 1x6 product.

Species include hemlock, fir, cedar, balsam and both ponderosa and lodgepole pine. To eliminate the chemical runoff, the Taiga operation has added a step to the production process, but it really combines the best of new and proven technology. It uses a recently developed method, "fixation", to drive and fix the preservative securely into the wood and virtually eliminate runoff. But the wood treatment chemical it uses in the process is the proven and well accepted chromated copper arsenate, or CCA as it is known. The accelerated fixing system, a patented system from Chemical Specialties Inc of North Carolina, both accelerates the fixation of CCA in to the wood and provides a contained, closed loop system for capturing solution dripping from the treated lumber using specialized drip pads. The preservative that the wood is treated with contains approximately 2.5 to 3.0 per cent CCA, with the balance being water.

Older style plants—including Taiga’s New Westminster plant that preceded the new Langley plant—involved storing wood in a covered area after conventional treatment, where it took days for the CCA to fix deep into the wood. "The accelerated treatment method we use now means we can have the wood totally fixed within a matter of hours rather than weeks," says Hobbs. At Taiga, the untreated white wood starts out in a separate storage area. It is brought over to the treatment building by forklift and loaded and tied on to a rail track on a 50 foot long tram, which includes an onboard operator control station. The tram moves sideways on its own rails into the building and inserts the wood into one of two 50 foot long, 6.5 feet diameter, pressure treatment tubes. It is treated with the CCA solution at pressures up to 180 psi for up to two hours.

The charge of lumber is then removed using the tram system and inserted into the Fast Fix fixtube, which has approximately the same dimensions, for an hour. In the accelerated fixation process, water heated to 175 degrees Celsius virtually bathes the wood. The heat transfers the water, with the chemical, into the wood, heats the wood up, and more effectively fixes the chemicals into the wood. Heat is provided from a 200 hp, 150 psi natural gas fired steam boiler. "There is some 6,000 gallons of water a minute circulating, so there is a considerable amount of water washing the wood at a high velocity," explains Hobbs. "It is washing away any slight sawdust and fines off the wood. So, in addition to the chemicals being more firmly fixed into the wood, that fine fixed material does not end up being carried away by rain in our customer’s yard, or in their customer’s yard." The tram has two tracks, which means it can remove a load of treated, or "cooked", wood from the fixation tube, move sideways slightly, and then immediately insert another charge of wood from the adjacent track into the tube.

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Runoff Regulations Are Strict

Leaching, or any kind of runoff, is one of the main environmental concerns for municipalities and other levels of government when approving wood treatment plants. Environmental regulations are especially strict in this area, for all industry, not just these types of plants, especially if they are near watercourses. Regulations state that no damaging substances can flow down a watercourse, even a watercourse as small as a ditch. That applies to chemicals, even natural chemicals from cow manure or small traces of zinc that may be stripped by acid rain from the numerous warehouses and barn roofs. These strict water regulations take on a life of their own in the rainy West Coast climate. Taiga Forest Products addressed this in a simple, straightforward manner—they collect every single drop of moisture on the site. "We collect all the rain that falls on the four acre site that is storing our treated wood with an underground catchment system that feeds a colossal underground reservoir in front of our plant," says Taiga’s Andrew Hobbs. The reservoir, which feeds the wood treatment system, is designed to handle the worst situation, and then some. Taiga did calculations that determined a "100 year flood"— the type of flood so big that it likely occurs only every 100 years—would require a reservoir to be able to contain 358,000 gallons. "We went better than that," says Hobbs. "We built containment for 600,00 gallons."

The transfer process takes only minutes. Older plants, on the other hand, face a more complicated handling process and might have to use a forklift to put a bridge in place to the tubes, and juggle loads around—the whole process could take 15 or 20 minutes. "With this new system, the tram lines up easily and quickly to the cylinder, the wood is inserted, the door is shut and the charge is happening," says Hobbs. Treated charges, which are literally steaming when removed from the high temperature fixation tube, are moved to one of 11 conditioning bays where the water drips into a steel contained drainage system, storing it for reuse. The plant uses about 20,000 gallons of water a day, some of it reused, some drawn from its own reservoir. The system is closed loop, meaning that they are self-sufficient in water.

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In operation for over a year, the plant has yet to need to draw on the municipal supply of water. Taiga called on its suppliers—such as Chemical Specialties Inc—for assistance in designing the plant but aside from that, they had the in-house expertise. In Edmonton, they also had the help of their Alberta partner, forest company Millar Western Forest Products. While there were large expenditures on new equipment, such as the autoclaves, the company put in a fair amount of used equipment to prepare the wood for treatment. They also used the services of an environmental consultant Enkon Environmental Ltd of Victoria—to assist in the environmental approval process through the BC Environmental Assessment Act. The accelerated fixation process, along with new facilities, means that Taiga has been able to ramp up production. Both the BC and Alberta plants are each capable of producing about 60 million board feet of treated wood a year. The two plants represent the only value-added segment to Taiga, which is Canada’s largest wholesale distributor of lumber, panel products and related building materials.

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Treated wood is stored on top of a huge 600,00 gallon underground reservoir Taiga built at its Langley plant. The operation is self-sufficient in its water requirements.

It has 14 distribution centres across the country and has chosen to focus on the distribution business. "But Taiga sees the opportunity of a good value-added process and product," says Hobbs, "and it dovetails nicely with the building products we distribute." When questioned, Hobbs had some advice, based on Taiga’s experience, on how best to handle the process of building a new plant or doing an upgrade. "You can’t say that you don’t want to deal with some groups, such as Greenpeace, because they might ask embarrassing questions," he says. "They will leave no stone unturned and we knew we had to be very straightforward. You have to have the expertise and the technology to answer those questions and satisfy everybody." In short, says Hobbs, do your homework and be prepared—for anything. It’s important, he adds, to keep in mind future—as well as present—environmental concerns because the regulations are only going to get more stringent. "It’s not going to get any easier. It’s going to get more demanding."

Industry Can Build On "Green Story"
While Taiga Forest Products is being proactive with new technology at its wood treatment plants in BC and Alberta and with the Envirofor treated wood they are producing, the premium they are getting for a "green" product is not substantial. But the consumer is looking for such a product, says Taiga’s Andrew Hobbs. "Given the choice, customers will choose a more environmentally ecofriendly product." Hobbs says the treated wood industry can build further on the "green story" the forest industry is already presenting about using a renewable resource.

While the forest industry harvests renewable trees, the treated wood companies take the wood produced from those trees and treat it so these wood products can last even longer. "Untreated wood outdoors might last as little as three years before developing rot, depending on the species," he says. "A treated product will last more than 40 years. What we are doing is making the wood last long enough for another tree to grow. That is our business." And it is an environmentallyfriendly industry, he adds. "We are using wellresearched, manmade chemicals to protect the wood with ‘lockedin’ fungicides and termiticides. The CCA wood preservative we are using has been proven, with over 75 years of safe and successful use worldwide."

 


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