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Pellet Company Adapts to Sawdust Shortage: Missouri Company Invests in CBI Machine to Chip Pulp Wood, Awaits New CBI Flail Debarker

Ozark Hardwood Products – Missouri Company Turns to CBI to Chip Pulp Wood

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 8/1/2009

SEYMOUR, Missouri – When Robert Carter launched Ozark Hardwood Products seven years ago, manufacturing fuel pellets from sawdust was a great business strategy. Construction was booming and so were sawmills, explained Mike Ferguson, the general manager of Ozark Hardwood Products.

            However, when the housing industry bubble broke, homebuilding went south and took lumber production with it. With the reduction in lumber production, sawdust became difficult to obtain.

            Ozark Hardwood Products was forced to adapt quickly to the declining supply of raw material.

            “Two years ago, I never would have thought to buy pulp wood,” said Mike, who talked with TimberLine about Ozark Hardwood Products (OHP).

            OHP makes industry-standard, 40-pound bags of wood fuel pellets for the residential market. Bagged wood fuel pellets account for 90% of the company’s product line.

            When sawdust became difficult to obtain, Mike began buying wood chips – “whatever quality product we could get,” he said. He also started to research investing in a chipper so that OHP could buy pulp wood and chip it into suitable raw material.

            “I did a lot of research on chippers,” said Mike. “I wanted a quality product and a high production rate.” He found both, he explained, in the Continental Biomass Industries Inc. Magnum Force 6400 chipper.

            The CBI Magnum Force 6400 is a “four-pocket micro chipper,” explained Mike. CBI, based in New Hampshire, developed the four-pocket chipper rotor to serve customers that require a small, consistent product. The rotor produces microchips (three to six millimeters) at rates as high as 100 tons per hour, depending on the model.

            The CBI 6400 in service at OHP is powered by a Caterpillar C-27 1,050-hp diesel engine. It produces chips at the rate of 75 tons per hour at OHP, said Mike.

            When Mike talked with TimberLine in July, the CBI 6400 had been in operation for 10 weeks. The chipper was meeting all his expectations after the usual “fine tuning” any new machine demands, he explained.

            At OHP, the CBI Magnum Force 6400 will soon be paired with the newest contribution that CBI is making to the pellet fuel industry, a chain flail debarker. Mike expects delivery of the flail debarker from CBI by the end of August. OHP currently buys pulp wood that is already debarked. The CBI chain flail debarker “will give us much more flexibility” when buying pulp wood, said Mike.

            OHP buys pulp wood from loggers within about a 100-mile radius of Seymour. The company operates a log yard, and logs are delivered to the yard by contract truckers. The occasional saw logs are sorted out for sale to sawmills, but most logs become raw material for pellet production. Logs are offloaded in the yard with a Caterpillar 930 with grapple forks, and a Caterpillar 320 knuckle-boom loader feeds logs to the CBI 6400 chipper.

            Seymour, which has a population of 1,800, is located in the southwest part of Missouri, about 30 miles west of Springfield. It is part of the Ozark Mountain or Ozark Plateau region, a 50,000-square-mile, hardwood-species-rich area that spans southern Missouri, eastern Oklahoma and northern Arkansas.

            OHP occupies part of a 35-acre site owned by the company. “We only utilize about six acres,” said Mike. The log yard fills three of those acres. The remaining acreage is planted in hay.

            The company makes fuel pellets from all hardwood material, particularly oak and hickory. Pellets are manufactured to strict standards of the Pellet Fuels Institute, an industry trade group of which OHP is a member. OHP also manufactures premium cedar horse bedding.

             According to the Pellet Fuels Institute, 800,000 homes in the U.S. use wood pellets for heat, burning them in a variety of heating appliances or stoves. Wood fuel pellets also are used in commercial and industrial applications for heat, such as stores and government buildings.

            OHP operates around the clock, seven days a week with 15 employees and some robotic assistance. A robotic arm from Fanuc Robotics America Inc. stacks bags of pellets. The actual pellet mill was supplied by Andritz-Sprout of Muncy, Pa.

            Production at OHP is approximately 300 tons per day. OHP sells pellets under its own label and also sells them under private labels for other companies. The finished pellets are bagged automatically with a system from Hamer International Inc.

            The CBI Magnum Force 6400 has met Mike’s expectations for performance. “We tried it out before we bought it,” he said. “I took three trips up there” to CBI’s plant in New Hampshire before making a buying decision.

            After the CBI 6400 was on site, CBI sent technicians to assist with the set-up and to train OHP personnel. Service and support were among the reasons that Mike chose to purchase the machine from CBI. They also factored into his decision to choose CBI for the chain flail debarker.

            The demand for wood fuel pellets continues to grow, but the biggest growth is occurring overseas, Mike noted. “The big growth segment is the export business,” he said. However, without easy access to seaports, it is not realistic to try to capitalize on that growth at this time. Even so, OHP continues to grow at a modest and gratifying rate.

            (The burgeoning export market for wood pellets stems in part from the renewable energy requirement the European Union imposed on its members. EU nations must generate 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The renewable energy requirement has led to an increase in U.S. exports of wood fuel pellets to Europe, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal.)

            Mike is also president, founder and one of the owners of AgriRecycle Inc., headquartered in Bolivar, Mo., which has pellet operations of another type. AgriRecycle processes litter from chicken houses into fertilizer.

            (When a farmer receives chicks to grow to market, the floor of the building is covered with wood shavings or similar material to absorb waste from the chickens; when the mature chickens are removed and taken to market, the litter is removed and the chicken house is replenished with fresh bedding material.)

            As Mike worked to enable chicken farmers and the poultry industry to recover value from litter, which otherwise would be a waste by-product, he was often approached by other businesses that were interested in making fuel pellets. In due course, he was persuaded to take the role of general manager at OHP. Now he wears two hats, one at OHP and one at AgriRecycle.

            Mike, who grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York, has a knack for engineering. He was attending college to earn an engineering degree, but he was recruited to work on projects, one after the other. A temporary break from college studies to do hands-on, real-world engineering got longer and longer. He did not complete his degree requirements, but he may yet finish them by taking the few courses he needs.

            When Mike began studying engineering, he already had a background in industrial processes. “I was brought up in heavy industrial processes — asphalt, rock crushing, heavy machinery,” he said.

            He also has some logging experience; he cleared land for the family farm with a chain saw and later machines.

            By tying together expertise in industry, farming and wood products, Mike was informally launched on his professional trajectory. Mike sees parallels and possibilities.

            Although AgriRecycle makes fertilizer pellets from chicken litter, its technology and processes may be adaptable for other applications, according to Mike. “When we first started making manure pellets, there was interest in burning them to heat chicken houses,” he said. However, one problem that could not be solved was obtaining an “even burn” or burning that would achieve an even temperature in the chicken houses. Now, however, advances in burners are close to overcoming this challenge.

            There is a “distinct possibility” that wood fuel pellets could be produced from chicken litter, said Mike. If it can be done with chicken manure, conceivably it could be done with other animal waste, such as cow manure, he indicated. “I think that is just around the corner,” said Mike.

            Mikes takes satisfaction in developing processes that can produce alternative types of fuel and fertilizer. “I like to take a waste product and turn it into a value-added product,” he said.

            Mike expects vendors to provide the same kind of quality that OHP provides to its customers. He has found the CBI Magnum Force 6400 chipper to be a great complement to the company’s operations. “It’s dependable,” said Mike. “It’s a good company that stands behind their product. The machine is very well built.”

            CBI has a motto – ‘more with less.’ The ‘less’ includes energy consumption, heat generation, handling time and machine downtime. The company is committed to increasing productivity while reducing these factors.

            CBI was founded by Anders Ragnarsson in 1988. It grew out of a land-clearing company that Anders started in 1983. The more land he cleared, the more focused Anders became on ensuring that wood material from clearing land could be utilized for mulch or biofuel.

            Tailoring equipment to the needs of a customer begins with providing options. The CBI 6400, like many other machines from CBI, is available in stationary and portable models. The 6400 series machine can be configured with a two- or four-pocket drum chipper rotor or two grinding rotor options as well.

            CBI is committed to continuous improvement. For instance, in November 2008, CBI introduced an improved version of its popular Magnum Force 6800 grinder; it takes the model number 6800B. The Magnum Force 6800B can be purchased as a portable, stationary or track-mounted machine.

            The CBI Magnum Force 6800B is designed and engineered for companies tackling jobs that require high-volume throughput and reliability. The “B” version has more space behind the screens than its predecessor, increased strength in the grinding chamber structure, an added fines transfer conveyor, and many other improvements based on customer feedback as well as CBI’s own observations. In addition, the turn of a switch causes the two main lock pins to retract. Two hydraulic cylinders, which are activated by another switch, lift the upper section of the 6800B to a vertical position, allowing complete access for maintenance.

            The hog chamber of the CBI Magnum Force 6800B is reinforced with continuous welds for rigidity and strength. The feed table on the “B” version is 1 foot longer than on the original. The horizontal grinder can be ordered with a CAT C-18 765 hp or a CAT C-27 1,050-hp engine.

            The CBI Magnum Force 6800A and

B models are equipped with the CBI IntelliGrind control system; it can self-adjust feed speed to coincide with engine load. System diagnostics, analysis and program adjustments can be simplified with

an optional modem communications system. The CBI Metal Detection System is another option.

            In his free time, Mike enjoys the outdoors. “I’m a hunter and a fisherman,” he said.

            For Mike, pulling together equipment and ideas from seemingly disparate sectors is a day-to-day endeavor he finds very rewarding. OHP and AgriRecycle have much in common, he explained. About each it can be said: “It’s a recycling business. It’s taking a product that’s not merchantable, and we’re turning it into a product that’s value-added.”



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