November 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
A HOT MARKET FOR LOGS — FIRELOGS
Quebec’s Bois BSL uses hardwood material that other manufacturers don’t want to produce flooring and—in a new venture—is now producing high energy fire logs.
By Martine Frigon
Bois BSL is an unusual company— there can’t be that many companies intentionally deciding to both use downgraded wood to make hardwood floors and sawdust residue to make fire log briquettes. Simply put, the company uses wood that others don’t want.
Bois BSL, located in the Lower St Lawrence region of eastern Quebec, is owned by Gino Ouellet, a businessman who is constantly on the lookout for unexploited market niches. Ouellet’s company has about 300 employees and he manages eight plants. The most recent, BSL Energy, was launched in March of this year and takes the residue from hardwood floor manufacturing to produce briquettes.
Aimed at the consumer market, the briquettes sell under the brand name “SmartLog” and are distributed by the Rona chain to all of its Quebec and Ontario retailers, as part of a two-year contract. Bois BSL Energy forecasts that more than eight million high performance energy briquettes will be produced in its first fiscal year.
That saying about necessity being the mother of invention comes to mind with the briquette business. The move to manufacturing briquettes came after Bois BSL lost a major client, who was purchasing its sawdust residue from such woods as maple, cherry and red oak. The client, a particleboard plant, had reduced requirements after cutting a shift from its operating schedule.
Bois BSL produces 17 million square feet of flooring annually, which results in a lot of wood residue. “We had to find a new market,” explains Ouellet. To find that new market, he considered three possibilities: bags of animal litter; granules for heating; and briquettes. “We chose to produce briquettes because the market seemed much more interesting.”
The venture is a winner on several fronts. Ouellet says their briquette production can consume 100 per cent of the company’s residues. As well, the transformed residues can be sold at higher prices than if they were delivered unprocessed.
BSL Energy is the result of a $3.1 million investment and its 13,000 squarefoot installation includes two briquette production lines.
It was left to Stéphane Héroux, a 26-year-old engineering graduate from Université Laval, to find the necessary equipment. “I went to Europe and met people from several companies, and especially visited the CF Nielsen installations. We chose CF Nielsen, in particular their BP 6000 model, which they said is designed to make briquettes from difficult-to-compress raw material.”
Based in Jutland, Denmark, CF Nielsen manufactures a variety of sizes of briquetting presses, from 100 kilograms per hour to about 2,200 kilograms per hour. The company says its equipment can compress almost anything with a moisture content below 20 per cent: shavings from planing, crushed wood (both new and old), MDF dust, veneer residue, and even rice husks and peanut shells. CF Nielsen’s North American representative is Briquetting Systems of Vancouver.
The shape of the briquette the BP 6000 makes was a determining factor for BSL because the company wanted to produce octagon-shaped briquettes which are easier to light. The BP 6000 has a 55 kilowatt engine and weighs 5,000 kilograms.
The processing of the briquettes is simple: Trucks unload the material in an outside storage area, and residue is then forwarded inside the building by conveyor. Both briquette production lines are connected to a cylinder three-quarters filled with sawdust. A rotor installed in the cylinder creates heat of up to 140 degrees Celsius.
Using this process, the product becomes moldable and can then be compacted. It is forwarded to two compactors (one for each line), and the finished product circulates on a 40-metre long line, which provides the necessary time required for cooling. The product is cut mechanically at the end of the production line. Each briquette measures 10 inches in length by three inches in diameter and weighs 3.3 pounds.
It takes 30 seconds to make a pack of 12 briquettes. Both production lines are set to produce packs of six or 12 briquettes. The plant works on two 12- hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The installation of the production lines took place in a three-week period from late February to mid-March 2006. According to Héroux, ramping up the equipment required some adjustments because it was one of the first times it had been used with hardwood. They had to tailor the species mix in the raw material.
“When there is too much maple in the
sawdust residues, the engines work too
hard. We had breakdowns because of this
and had to fine tune the machinery.”
They had a break in the cylinder
“According to the manufacturer’s specifications, the saws should be changed after every 24 hours of operation, but in fact we change them every 12 hours,” adds Héroux. “As well, despite its technical specifications that claim a maximum capacity of 2,200 kilograms per hour, we only get 1,000 kilograms per hour here because of the types of wood that we use.”
Despite all the inconveniences, the experience has been a profitable one for Gino Ouellet. “Our briquettes have interested other distributors. Last spring, we participated in Globe 2006—a trade show in Vancouver—and some people from Asia discovered our product. They even came to visit us in Mont-Joli.” And, as is the business tradition between Asia and Quebec, the visitors received a typical present: maple syrup made from Ouellet’s own maple grove.
Using the wood others don’t want
Quebec’s Gino Ouellet had the idea of using downgraded wood for a long time. The idea began when he started working as a scaler, after he received his forest technician’s diploma from Amqui high school, in eastern Quebec’s Matapédia Valley, near New Brunswick.
“I often saw badly classified wood and thought it was essential to use it properly and give it added value. So when I launched my company in 1995, I bought that type of wood, mainly from the Maritimes, and resold it to contactors and hardware shops in my region,” Ouellet says. Five years later, Bois BSL had 72 regional customers and wholesalers in the Montreal and Toronto region, as well as in some US states.
That’s when Ouellet started another business, manufacturing hardwood floors with downgraded wood. “We were the only ones trying this type of product,” he says. They ran up against some resistance, with a portion of the market favouring the use of only the best grades for hardwood floors. “But what we are doing allows us to offer flooring for less, while getting an added value for downgraded wood.”
While he started the new business, Ouellet noted prices for downgraded wood from dimensional lumber rose significantly at the time. “When we launched our hardwood flooring plant, we quit selling downgraded softwood because of quotas, taxes and the price increase. For example in 1995, we were buying eight-foot 2 x 4 at $130 per 1,000 board feet. But in 2001, the same amount of wood sold for $330. It reduces mark-up quite a bit,” he explains.
In addition to the manufacturing of briquettes (see above story), Bois BSL built a log-sorting yard next to its Matane flooring plant in May of this year. “We wanted to guarantee our supply source. We buy wood destined for the pulp and paper industry and sort it because a large amount of this wood can easily be used as our raw material,” says Laurent Parent, production vice-president. “We saw and keep the wood that’s good for us.”
A half-dozen sawmills in the Matane region are subcontracted to process the wood, with particular attention paid to the various widths of the wood that are available. “Some widths may not be in demand now but we keep them anyway because we know they’ll be needed later when there are new flooring models, new fashion trends, and we’ll be able to use them,” Parent adds.
Bois BSL strongly believes in the principle of having a log-sorting yard—it works well, especially with their future plans. An additional four projects are forecast in the years to come.
Bois BSL uses three kilns—from Technologies Duraken Inc—in Les Méchins, a Gaspé Peninsula town some 60 kilometres from Matane. Although the kilns are working at full capacity, that’s still not enough to meet Bois BSL’s needs. “We have to double the capacity of our kiln dryers,” Parent says. “At the moment, we have to buy a large amount of dry wood, so we’re in negotiations with the same manufacturer to buy three more kilns.”
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