University of Alaska Fairbanks study proposes green, stable solution for mills

Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2005

WRANGELL - A University of Alaska Fairbanks study recommends that struggling sawmills, closed pulp mills and their communities consider investing in producing medium density fiberboard.

The material is used in cabinets, countertops, floors and furniture. The Japanese look to buy high-quality fiberboard, as opposed to low-grade products made in China, said Allen Brackley, one of the researchers who wrote the proposal.

"A town manager from Sitka just asked me about it," he said.

Brackley gave a presentation on the proposal to an audience of business and civic leaders gathered in Wrangell for the Southeast Conference annual meeting.

Many were hearing about it for the first time on Tuesday.

"It's a good idea if we can get the timber," said George Woodbury, president of the Alaska Forest Association.

Southeast Alaska's timber industry has seen mills close due to fewer trees being available and to market competition. Brackley said medium-density fiberboard production would be a good solution in today's timber climate because it is environmentally friendly and has a ready market.

The process makes use of low-quality trees - those that are crooked, small or rotten. These trees are often discarded at financial and environmental expense, Brackley said.

"Why don't we utilize them and turn them into a good product," he said.

Some mills elsewhere use these lower-quality logs to make paper, tissues or sanitary products, but these are "wet" processes that can create pollution, Brackley said.

Fiberboard production is a dry process that condenses wood chips into a variety of densities.

Production would require an investment between $50 million and $150 million.

About 16 to 20 companies nationwide are producing this material; the price on the market for fiberboard is stable, Brackley said.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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