PULLMAN, Wash. — The four million tons of wheat straw produced annually in the Pacific Northwest 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 fiberboard product. Laborie found that by altering the components of the commonly used adhesive resins, she could produce a result that meets the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requirements and slash the cost of currently used resins by three hundred percent.
“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 Laborie, an assistant professor in the WSU department of civil and environmental engineering.
The success of Laborie’s study could have far reaching economic impacts. She estimates that for each mid-sized strawboard plant in operation, revenue for farmers could increase by $5 million and provide approximately 100 jobs to boost the economy of the community. Washington state has sufficient resources to supply 40 strawboard plants and bolster the state economy by $200 million, said Laborie.
The ever increasing concern over the shortage of wood fiber is creating strong pressure from panel producers to find alternative resources, and the wheat producing Pacific Northwest is an excellent source of agricultural byproducts, including wheat straw.
An IMPACT Center call for proposals began Laborie’s quest to turn a large volume of wheat straw residue, an agricultural byproduct, in to a high-value fiberboard composite.
“I looked at agricultural products in the area that were wastes and started there,” said Laborie.
One challenge Laborie faced was meeting the ANSI requirements for water resistance. Many other researchers fell short in this area, said Laborie.
“Water resistance was a particular problem, especially swelling, but after a few adjustments to the process we improved this area a lot,” said Laborie.
“I feel pretty happy about how the project turned out,” Laborie said.
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