PULLMAN, Wash. – When entrepreneur John Bowser wanted to learn more about wood-plastic composite materials, an Internet search led him to Washington State University’s Composite and Materials Engineering Center. Now, as a result of the partnership that ensued, the residents of Elma, Wash. – a small community in Grays Harbor County – are preparing to celebrate the opening of a new factory that will employ as many as 150 people.
NewWood Manufacturing Inc. will hold an open house at its 275,000-square-foot facility in the Satsop Development Park in Elma at 11 a.m., Monday, Nov. 15.
NewWood will operate out of a wood-plastic composite plant in Elma that closed several years ago. NewWood purchased the plant, the state-of-the-art machinery inside as well as patent rights from a previous owner. The NewWood product is a building material that encapsulates wood fibers from recycled waste wood with recycled polyethylene plastic. With the help of WSU researchers, NewWood has identified more than 100 applications for its new utility board, including for the construction of fruit bins, pallets and fencing.
“WSU’s Composite and Materials Engineering Center is among the best in the world in developing new building materials combining wood and plastic,” Bowser said. “When I called, their knowledge of the technology was a tremendous help.” He credited Karl Englund and Vikram Yadama, research professors and WSU Extension specialists in the center, as well as professors Mike Wolcott and Bob Tichy, for much of his success in opening the plant.
“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 helped to keep us focused to where we are today.”
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,’’ says 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.’’
NewWood 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 have been recycled for lower end uses, such as mulch.
In addition to saving money for the industries that produce such waste and have to dispose of it, reusing 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,” Bowser said.