By demonstrating a new eco-innovative product – 100% recycled wood joists – the LIFE+ GREENJOIST project will target three fundamental environmental problems, strongly in line with Europe’s environmental and climate change policies and priorities as well as the recent Environment Action Programme for 2020.
Waste management and recycling
Waste management is one of the top priorities on the Environment agenda for Europe, as stated in the recent Environment Action Programme for 2020.
In particular, while notable efforts and actions have been made through the introduction and update of policies and legislation, support studies and research, there is still a strong need for improving recycling practices and raising acceptance and uptake of such processes.
In fact waste is also a priority topic in the current LIFE+ call and especially in various National annual priorities, for instance both Italy – where IMAL, the coordinating beneficiary is located – and Spain – where the COL beneficiary is located – indicate a priority in their NAP 2013 point 10b: “promoting waste prevention, recovery and recycling with a focus on life-cycle thinking, eco-design and the development of recycling markets” by demonstrating an innovative eco-process to produce quality and cost-effective joists made from 100% Super Compacted Recycled Wood (SCRW).
LIFE+ GREENJOIST will create impact and potential for the growth of recycled wood products: in turn, this will mean increased demand for recycled wood and in general of recycling, the net benefit being an overall cut in landfill wood waste (be it legal or illegal).
In fact, while overall progress has been made in Europe on waste management efforts in recent years, 60% of solid waste is still being landfilled or incinerated.
LIFE+ GREENJOIST will contribute to divert additional wood waste (about 10 ton/day or 3000 tons per year) from the ‘disposal’ to the ‘recycling’ status of the foreseen hierarchy outlined in the EU waste framework directive. Specifically to wood, proponents are aware that recycling wood waste is not new in many areas of the EU.
Currently wood is mainly recycled in two ways
As for wood waste, about 15 million tons/year (the size of a 3 km long train) still goes to landfills in Europe, with figures varying locally (accounting for official numbers only, without considering unauthorized dumps).
From the partners’ calculations it may be assumed that at least 60 million cubic metres of virgin wood are being consumed by the manufacturing industry alone for skids and supports (conservative figure taking only manufacturing into account and excluding logistics, packaging, etc.).
The proposed GREENJOIST solution, being high quality and cheaper than what is currently being used, could substantially substitute this virgin wood with an eco-friendly recycled product. Additionally, most engineered panels use a mixture of virgin and recycled wood (with quantities varying depending on the type of board).
With regard to biomass production, it is only possible to use certain types of wood waste, such as that from wood sawing and/or pure wood from urban mining.
The remaining wood in the value chain (e.g. panels, furniture, fencing etc..) cannot be burned because it contains variable amounts of other substances (chemicals, additives), with the potential risk of releasing extremely harmful substances into the ecosystems.
To the best of the proponents’ knowledge, an effective system such as the one proposed in LIFE+ GREENJOIST that enhances the potential for reutilizing wood waste, using 100% recycled wood to produce a product of high quality and convenience, thus strongly valorizing this material at the end of its life cycle, does not exist at present.
Since the joists produced by LIFE+ GREENJOIST will be totally green, they will in turn be recyclable themselves, effectively closing the waste cycle.
Reduction / Substitution of dangerous substances
LIFE+ GREENJOIST technology, by using recycled wood waste and a high-temperature steam process, will avoid the use of harmful chemicals and the related impacts on health and the environment. Additionally, the glues used will replace at least 50% (conservative estimate) of the raw petrochemical materials, with materials from renewable resources drastically cutting chemicals in the mixture and coating, making the joists themselves easily recyclable.
It has to be underlined here that the pallets and joists produced from virgin wood require fumigation, a process where various toxic and hazardous chemicals are used to destroy any bacteria which may be present in the wood, to render the end product compliant with International (and EU) standards for health and safety (ISPM15). Some of the chemicals used in the fumigation process and other sub-processes of virgin wood are: methyl bromide; phosphine; chloropicrin; 1,3-dichloropropene; formaldehyde; methyl isocyanate; hydrogen cyanide; sulfuryl fluoride; iodoform; isocyanate-based resins (for moisture protection).
Due to the high temperature applied in the process, the use of these chemicals is not required, and the product will still be compliant with export regulations.
As mentioned earlier, for outdoor use of the joists, where weather protection is required, the GREENJOIST system will use an innovative type of glue based on raw materials from renewable resources, namely lignin, tannin or starch. These natural materials will be used as substitutes for raw petrochemical materials like phenol or melamine in the synthesis of PF and MUF resin respectively.
Moreover, bonding systems based exclusively on these natural materials and using hardeners at levels of less than 20% will also be evaluated.
All binders will be developed at lab scale (2-5 kg) and their physicochemical characteristics will be determined by standard and modern analytical methods. The best will be synthesized at a larger production scale (10-50 kg) so as to ensure the smooth and safe transfer of the technology to the LIFE+ GREENJOIST plant production scales.
The new polymers will offer more environmentally and human friendly binders as less petrochemical materials will be used for their synthesis, while the joists produced with them are expected to have better mechanical properties and a negligible level of formaldehyde emission.
Reduction of GHG emissions
The LIFE+ system, once operating at full capacity, will be able to produce 950.4 km of extruded length or 633,600 pieces 1.5 meters long.
The raw material (wood waste) used for this production will be
This means that the process will avoid consuming at least 3,960 tons/year (7,286 m³/year) of virgin wood.
The total amount of wood material saved/recycled would be approx 13,400 m³/year, equivalent to saving approximately 13,400 trees/year, considering that each tree produces about 1 m³ of virgin wood (0.24 x 0.24 x 3.14 x 6 – average diameter 0.24 m – average height 6 m).
Estimating that the sequestration power of an average tree is 22 kg CO2eq/year [Geraldo D., Correia P.J., Filipe J. , Nunes L., Carob-tree as CO2 Sink in the Carbon Market], we can say that the LIFE+ GREENJOIST system will contribute to saving approx. 295-300 tons CO2eq/year.
When considering CO2 emissions, transportation impacts should also be assessed both within the wood production chain and in the waste management chain. Even though each country produces its own pallets (since it’s not economical to import pallets due to high transport costs for a heavy and low value added product), the environmental impact of domestic transportation is not to be underestimated since the typical transport route is between a mountain/forest area and an industrial area, over an average distance of about 300 km.
Considering 450 million pallets produced from virgin wood and an average weight of 20 kg for each pallet, we can estimate about 9 million tons of raw material transported each year just for pallet production. Since the average load capacity of pallets per truck is 10 tons max, we can estimate a distance of 422 million km/year. As for wood waste (approximately 28 million square metres/year) it has to be collected, transported and disposed of by qualified operators. These operations are normally carried out at local level, with an average distance of 30 km, which means 98.44 million km/year.
Consequently – applying the McKinnon formula – the total CO2 produced, due to both transportation of virgin wood and waste, is equivalent to approximately 522,800 tons of CO2eq.
To conclude, the impact potential would be estimated as a cumulative impact on the environment of approx 2,122,800 tons of CO2eq per year, comparable to the CO2 emitted by approximately 1 million cars every year (average CO2eq emission of 2 tons/year for an average car).