New fibreboard preserves trees

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A US researcher has designed a process to turn waste wheat straw into a cost-effective fibreboard product.

The four million tons of wheat straw produced annually in the Pacific Northwest of the US may have a new market thanks to a researcher with the International Marketing Program for Agricultural Commodities & Trade (IMPACT) Center at Washington State University.

Dr Marie-Pierre Laborie has designed a process to turn the otherwise wasted wheat straw into a cost-effective fibreboard product. Dr Laborie found that by altering the components of the adhesive resins commonly used to create fibreboard, she could produce a wheat straw product that meets the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requirements and reduces the cost of the current resins by three times.

'Many strawboard plants are expensive to run because of the cost of the resins, so I began looking for the most effective, low-cost adhesive resin,' said Dr. Laborie, an assistant professor in the WSU department of civil and environmental engineering.

The success of Dr. Laborie’s research could have far reaching economic impacts. She estimates that for each mid-sized strawboard plant in operation, revenue for farmers could increase by $5m and provide approximately 100 jobs. Washington state has sufficient resources to supply 40 strawboard plants and bolster the state economy by $200m, she said.

The increasing concern over the shortage of wood fibres is creating a strong desire among fibreboard producers to find alternative resources, and the rich wheat-producing Pacific Northwest is an excellent source of agricultural byproducts, in the form of wheat straw.