Former waste turns to gold
Woodworking sawdust burns in new furnace to provide heat
Darron Kloster, Times Colonist
Published: Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Sawdust used to be a nuisance for Dave Conway.
These days the fluffy byproduct of Old Country Woodturning is powdered gold.
What used to be trucked away at great expense in time and fuel is being used to heat Conway's finishing wood products factory in Esquimalt.
The sawdust is siphoned from dozens of planers, lathes and other woodworking machines into a silo and augured into a newly installed biomass furnace. The Austrian-made system heats water which is circulated through pipes embedded into the concrete floor, easily turning the cavernous, 21,000-square-foot factory into a shirt-sleeve environment.
Conway, who has operated the joinery business with his wife Jill for more than 26 years, said the biomass furnace allows the company to rid itself of a reliance on natural gas for a sustainable and plentiful fuel source.Old Country produces baseboards, rails, spindles and other finishing products for the U.S. housing industry and Canadian wholesale markets. The company, with about $3 million in revenues last year and 30 employees on the payroll, produces about 20 cubic metres, or 2,000 kilograms, of sawdust and wood chips per day.
Conway said the biomass system, installed by Mawera's Canadian subsidiary based in Revelstoke, cost about $225,000 when all the plumbing, ductwork and exterior infrastructure such as the silo and stack are included. He also spent $100,000 to cover the factory floor in new concrete last year.
But with a $7,000 monthly gas bill and the expense of dumping four trucks of sawdust per day, Conway expects the biomass system will pay for itself in five to six years.
He also finds himself ahead of the curve as the B.C. government unveils a green energy plan encouraging businesses to invest in sustainable and carbon-neutral fuel sources.
"We just figured this was the direction to go with our business ... it's free heat," says Conway. "We produce enough sawdust and it was getting so hard to get rid of it. It's a local fuel source and we're not trucking in gas from Alberta. It also allows us to get rid of a very big gas bill."Although this is a first for a Victoria company, there are about 50 similar biomass projects operating in B.C., according to Cornelius Suchy, CEO of Mawera Canada Ltd. Most are used in greenhouse and hothouse plant and vegetable operations but some lumber mills also use the technology for kiln drying lumber," he said.
Dockside Green, the green building development on the Upper Harbour, and some 2010 Olympic venues are also considering or have plans for similar systems, he said.
In Europe, where sustainable power sources have for years been in front of North America, there are about 5,000 biomass units in operation. Russia is the new leading market, added Suchy.
Sawdust is considered a carbon neutral fuel source. By definition, that means the same amount of carbon is absorbed during the life of a tree as is released after its death -- either through decomposition over time or being burned.
Particulate emissions from Old Country's smoke stack are also under the maximum allowed by the provincial government's environmental standards (120 milligrams per cubic metre of affluent), said Suchy.
Particulate matter out of the stack is cut to less than 10 per cent through a series of flue fans that create a cyclone effect. Matter caught in the "eye of the storm" drops to an ash bin before being sent out the stack.
The entire system can be controlled from an electronic panel in the factory or from Conway's home via the Internet.
Conway said he will likely only use the heating system six to eight months of the year. The remaining time he will either burn off the dust and chips or look into selling the excess heat to nearby businesses. That would be done by trenching pipes to any neighbours who would want it for heating or other purposes.
The process would need further study and have to go through Esquimalt council, he said.
Old Country uses alder grown on the north Island for all of its product, which is shipped throughout the Western U.S. and to wholesalers who supply furniture factories, lumberyards and home improvement giants such as Home Depot and Rona. The fact that alder, a deciduous tree, is plentiful and a fast grower also gives Old Country a quick renewable resource.
The company puts out about 750,000 board feet per year in the form of window casings, baseboards, staircase rails and spindles, soft corners and other specialty finishing products.
A former plumber from Britain, Conway more than quadrupled his space last year when he purchased the AAA Salvage warehouse and nearly one acre of property it sits on across the street from his original 5,000-square-foot shop. The Conways originally ran a furniture manufacturing business, Conway Joinery, on Discovery Street, but moved into manufacturing furniture "parts" for wholesalers during the late 1980s.