By Tina Hilding, College of Engineering and Architecture,
and Kathy Barnard, WSU Extension
 
 
 
PULLMAN – When an entrepreneur wanted to learn more about wood plastic composites (WPC), an Internet search led him to WSU. The ensuing partnership resulted in a factory opening that will employ as many as 150 people in Elma, Wash.
 
NewWood Manufacturing Inc. will hold an open house at the 275,000 square foot facility at 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 15.
 
WSU’s Composite and Materials Engineering Center (CMEC) is among world leaders in WPC – “if not the foremost leader,” said John Bowser, CEO of New Wood. He began to look into refurbishing and reopening the Elma WPC plant three years ago.
 
The facility originally was built for manufacturing WPC-based residential siding. But it closed when the parent company changed focus. NewWood purchased the plant, state-of-the-art machinery and patent rights. With the decrease in housing construction during the recession, Bowser needed to look at new markets.
 
Green is good
The factory is unique in that it relies exclusively on the waste stream, such as urban wood waste and post consumer/post industrial plastic films, for its raw materials. Traditionally, these waste materials have made their way to landfills or been recycled for lower end uses, such as mulch.
 
In addition to saving money for industries that produce such waste, reusing the materials and developing them into high-end products is environmentally friendly, helping to reduce the use of forest resources and fossil fuels.
 
“This is a do-good business,” said Bowser.

Englund Yadama
Wolcott Tichy
After reading about CMEC, Bowser talked with Karl Englund and Vikram Yadama, WSU research professors and extension specialists, as well as professors Mike Wolcott and Bob Tichy, whom he credits for much of his success in opening the plant.
 
“When I called, their knowledge of the technology was a tremendous help,” Bowser said.
 
Help with products, markets
The researchers helped him explore development of products and make contacts to market them. The NewWood product is a utility board made of recycled waste wood fibers encapsulated in recycled plastic. With help from WSU, NewWood has identified more than 100 applications for the board, including construction of fruit bins, pallets and fencing.
 
Approximately 30 percent of harvested lumber in the United States goes for the production of pallets, said Bowser. Pallets made from WPC have the advantage over wood pallets of being more durable and more sanitary.
 

CMEC impacts reach
around the world
 
The Composite Materials and Engineering Center (CMEC) is an international leader in research, education, technology transfer, and public service. CMEC’s technologies have impacted the forest products and composite materials industries in Washington and beyond. Here are some examples:
 
• More than 40 percent of the $1 billion wood plastics industry in North America uses material formulations developed at WSU.
 
• Textbooks by CMEC faculty include “Design of Wood Structures,” used by more than 70 universities throughout the United States, and “The Engineering Guide to LEED New Construction: Sustainable Construction for Engineers.”
 
• CMEC has more than 30 patents or inventions in areas such as nondestructive evaluation of wood materials, wood-plastic composites, and composite materials processing.
 
• Two former faculty members formed a company, Metriguard Inc., that is the world leader in machinery for nondestructive grading of lumber and veneer.
 
• CMEC hosts the annual International Wood Composites Symposium – an industry focused forum for wood composite panel/engineered wood product producers, suppliers and researchers, with participants from more than 20 countries.
 
• CMEC faculty and staff:
 
– Provide technical assistance to numerous commercial startups and economic development councils.
– Helped a manufacturing business get started in Elma, Wash.
– Help various city and country governments find ways to reduce landfill demands by developing new products out of waste materials.
– Participated in a FEMA reconnaissance team to evaluate the damage from Hurricane Katrina. Their recommendations and report have resulted in several proposed code changes to improve home construction in high wind regions.
– Were featured in a Public Broadcasting System television program titled “Disaster Resistant Housing.” Several million people will watch the show and understand how to design and build new houses to resist disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods.
– Provided leadership in development and technical review of FEMA publications including “Home Builders’ Guide to Seismic Resistance Construction” and “Home Builders’ Guide to Coastal Construction.” These publications will reach more than 250,000 people during the first year alone.
– Chaired the Building Seismic Safety Council (BSSC), which writes the design provisions for seismic design in the United States. The effect of these provisions has been shown to reduce the losses associated with earthquakes in the United States by 20-30 percent. For an earthquake such as the Northridge, Calif., quake in 1992, this translated to countless lives saved and a reduction in economic loss of $8-12 billion.
– Advised the student group Engineers Without Borders and helped them design replacements for school buildings destroyed by the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka as well as a water supply system in a remote area of the Yakama Nation.
– Served on international commissions in Canada, Chile and New Zealand related to mitigating seismic hazards to buildings and their occupants.
– Have taught classes on earthquake engineering in India.
– Serve on committees that regulate the quality of construction lumber in the United States.
CMEC’s role was to provide technical advice, Yadama said. In addition, CMEC helped connect Bowser with economic development officials in the state and helped him look at potential markets.
 
Both Yadama and Englund, who were the primary WSU contacts on the project, are heavily involved in industrial extension.
 
“This is a great example of how, through their WSU Extension appointments, the work of these faculty members directly benefits state industry and local communities,’’ said Don Bender, CMEC director. “It is only one of many ways that we are continuing to meet the extension outreach mission of our land-grant university.’’
 
“They helped me get through these three years and have assured me the technology is solid and that this recycled product is viewed as desirable,” Bowser said. “They have helped to keep us focused to where we are today.”
 
Jobs are good
Residents in Elma, in Grays Harbor County, are getting ready to celebrate the opening of the new factory. It’s exciting news for the town of 3,000 that has struggled economically.
 
Bowser sees the facility as a possible catalyst in the area and a hub in new efforts in sustainable development. The facility, he said, is an opportunity to create a new paradigm in business for the way the region uses its resources.
 
“Now we’ve done a good thing,” he said.