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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Innovation 2013 – Aerospace Edition

Tracking Wood in Landfills, Future Energy Source

Karl EnglundKarl Englund’s research would be easier if all homes were built of Legos.

“If we designed for disassembly like that, you could just build your house, take it apart when you’re done with it, and then sell all the parts,” said Englund, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

As part of the five-year, $40 million Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance grant that is developing regional biofuel solutions, Englund is trying to find communities that produce the most accessible, usable wood waste.

His research is an important part of NARA’s mission to develop an environmentally and economically efficient supply chain that will allow for an aviation biofuel industry in the Pacific Northwest.

If homes were built with Lego pieces, they could more easily be disassembled and reused to build something else. Since that is not the case, and most things are built with materials that mix products like wood with resins and other chemicals, tracking usable wood waste is a complicated process.

wood wasteWood waste can come from mills, forest waste, material recycling facilities (MRFs), and municipal solid waste sites (MSWs). The MSWs are day-to-day trash streams, or how our garbage gets from the curb to a landfill. Many communities also have MSWs that are specifically for construction and demolition (C and D) waste, which is where Englund is focusing his research.

“Forest waste is mostly bark and sticks, and a lot of furniture that we buy, like this desk for instance,” he says, tapping on his light brown desk, “are made of wood composites, wood materials mixed with resins and other chemicals that can be converted to biofuel.”

It is important to know how much actual wood is in those composites in order to determine how much energy it will take to extract the wood for use in biofuel production.

The C and D sites in the NARA region (Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington) hold over 2.5 million tons of wood waste per year. Finding out how much usable wood waste is at each landfill might be manageable if they were structured the same, but they aren’t.

“We know there is wood in the solid waste stream, but there is no mainstream structure followed, not even within each state,” Englund said.

So, Englund is trying to grasp the bigger picture by mapping out the Pacific Northwest based on landfills and MRFs. Since he does not have time to go from landfill to landfill documenting how much wood waste each has and how the wood is collected, he plans to develop a model that will predict answers to those questions based on factors that surround the landfills.

He is using a geographic information system (GIS) to do this mapping. A GIS combines software, hardware, and data on factors such as population density, industry, and other frameworks of a community that will help Englund to predict the type and amount of wood waste produced there.

For example, if he can predict about how much housing material will be made from composites in 30 years, than he can compare that percentage with the amount of housing wood waste a specific landfill brings in each year to set up a model of predicting how much wood waste is usable in that landfill.

Englund is in the second year of this research, and by the end of the NARA grant he hopes to have models set up that tell researchers demographically what type of wood is where, so that a future biofuel company might find the most economically and environmentally viable locations for transportation depots and refineries.