PanelWorld magazine November 1999
BOARD PRODUCTION from RYEGRASS GAINS INTEREST
Meadowood Industries, Inc. of Albany, Oregon has developed, produced, and marketed unique decorative and structural boards from ryegrass since 1977. The process and products are the result of the desire to find value-added uses for the crop residue that remains after grass seed is harvested. Growers in the Willamette Valley of Oregon produce over 60% of all the grass seed used in the world. Leonard Opel, an Oregon ryegrass seed grower, became interested in preliminary board production work completed by Oregon State University that was being promoted by the Oregon Women for Agriculture during the mid 1970's. He and several associates constructed a scale production facility to develop the process and produce 4 x 8 sheets of ryegrass board. The organization has grown and incorporated as Meadowood Industries, Inc. The proprietary resin, additives, release methods, and raw material control processes have been refined to produce very marketable board and shaped products. The favorable strength to weight benefits are attractive to panel and specialty markets.
Current production has provided board and shapes for captive niche products and for market testing. The standard panel of 4' x 8' x 1/4" and 40 lbs. density is most common, although thickness of 1/8" to 1" and density up to 55 lb. are produced. The low-density material has benefits for acoustical or pin board applications, the standard density is for general use, and the higher density board is used where greater strength and a harder surface are desirable. Corrugated panels and architectural shapes have also been provided to niche customers. Orders and interest in the products have increased to a level that planning and financing are now in progress for a full-scale production facility. Combinations of agricultural crop processing, wood product and custom equipment will be used in the new facility.
Meadowood designer materials combine technology with nature for beautiful decorative products that are also functional. The natural surface can have a textured appearance similar to grass cloth. Meadowood designer materials also have some of the resilience and acoustical properties of cork along with strength, insulation, and fire rating values that are greater than many wood products. For an added dimension of design, natural or treated dried florals, ferns, and branches are hand arranged and inlaid into the material during manufacturing, thus creating an individual inlaid art form. Meadowood designer materials are used in residential and commercial building applications as accent walls, ceilings, or room dividers, and as components for cabinetry, furniture, bulletin boards and display fixtures. The material can be handled and formed with standard wood working tools. It has good nail as well as screw holding capacity. Panel adhesive and wood glues work very well to bond Meadowood designer materials to themselves or other surfaces.
The surface may be protected, when desired, with most sealers such as, lacquer, acrylic or urethane. For those who wish to alter the natural appearance, paints or stains may be used. Type and number of coatings and method of wipe-down or sanding will achieve numerous variations to enhance or subdue the natural texture.
Market segments that have used various Meadowood products include: residential and commercial interior décor or architectural treatment; mobile home and manufactured housing; furniture, office accent and original equipment manufacturers; visual merchandising or display fixture providers; specialty craft, premium and trophy designers; and home center or do it yourself customers. Other agricultural fibers such as buckwheat hulls, rice stalks and hulls, various types of cereal grain stalks, corn stover, kenaf, bagasse and even waste money have used to make board or shaped products. Samples and full sheets have been shipped to many parts of the world.
Meadowood products have the environmental benefits of reducing open field burning and turning an annually renewable resource into a valuable raw material. However, the company believes that the products have the greatest value because of merits of strength to weight, appearance, and versatility. The products use the natural ryegrass stem strength to advantage by random arrangement of mat furnish to form an interlocking weave. Surface layer treatments are used to create custom appearance effects. The random weave promotes exceptional edge nailing characteristics not found in most related board products. The random layered furnish improves edge glue penetrations for sturdy component end products.
The development, production and marketing of Meadowood products offer unique challenges and opportunities. Many people perceive the annually renewable agricultural resource to be a waste product of little value, thus expecting a low end product cost. In actual practice, the collection, transportation, long term storage plus a fair profit to the grower result in some raw material and processing costs that are comparably greater than wood. Quality control during selection, collection and storage is more critical than with forest products. The total supply of quality raw material is very limited relative to wood resulting in a niche category market share. Rice, cereal grain, and other crop residue can be used for raw material but each has unique end product characteristics that do not necessarily fit in the same markets. Market entry can be a greater challenge than actual board production. Meadowood Industries, Inc. has gained significant knowledge and experience in dealing with these factors. Unique, high quality products have helped to locate niche markets. This experience along with a gradual change in industry attitudes toward alternative fibers has improved the opportunity for a successful full-scale production facility.
This report was submitted by Keith Gorzell, Vice President of Meadowood Industries, and all statements and claims are attributable to the company. For questions concerning this article contact Gorzell at (650) 637-0539.
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