When given the task of increasing by 10% the total tonnage of their
company’s recyclable waste, Russ Wilkenloh and Chris Robinson, CMIR,
of Duke Energy knew that utility poles and other wood waste had to
be a part of the equation. But finding a means to make that happen
was a significant challenge.
Utility companies across the U.S. and Canada have long shared a common
problem concerning utility pole disposal and/or recycling. Most
poles have historically either been landfilled or given away. Both of
these solutions are plagued with potential long-term liability issues.
The challenge is that treated wood such as utility poles contains pesticides
and substances that are safe when the wood is used as intended,
but can cause problems if wood waste is mishandled.
While attending the 2010 Investment Recovery Association Trade
Show in New Orleans, Chris noticed that National Salvage & Service
Corporation (NSSX) recycles railroad ties as a core part of their business.
Concluding that railroad ties and utility poles are very similar, he
approached NSSX about recycling Duke’s surplus utility poles. After
some discussion, Duke Energy and National Salvage agreed to perform
a pilot program in the fall and winter of 2010-2011 to determine if
what looked good on paper would work as well in the real world.
After a few months of trial and error, a program was agreed upon that
resulted in approximately 95% of Duke Energy’s wood waste being recycled
at a cost that is less than disposing of the wood in a landfill. This
is achieved by separating the waste wood into categories to ensure
that the highest value is recovered for each item while keeping costs
at a minimum. Categories included:
• Utility poles greater than 8’ in length
• Poles less than 8’ in length that are creosote treated
• Poles that are less than 8’ in length that are penta
or CCA treated
• Untreated wood (pallets, reels, and crates)
Reuse. Utility poles that are greater than 8’ in length are transported
and sold through a distribution network that exists because of
National Salvage’s 30+ years in the railroad tie recycling business.
Farm supply stores, fence builders, landscapers, and a variety of other
customers appreciate the value of used utility poles. The price that a
wholesale customer is willing to pay for a truckload of poles delivered
to them helps offset the cost of preparation and transportation.
Recycling poles for reuse is vital to the cost effectiveness of the entire
wood recycling program.
Biomass incineration. Creosote poles less than 8’ in length and
untreated wood can be burned at a biomass power plant or cogeneration
facility that is permitted for creosote wood. In this case, the material
is hauled via 90 yard trailers to a National Salvage treated wood
grinding operation in Selma, AL. International Paper utilizes this wood
to fuel their cogeneration boilers at three paper mills in Alabama.
About 1,000 tons of railroad ties (and now utility poles) are ground
into chips daily at this facility.
5% landfill. Rotten pole pieces and poles less than 8’ in length that
have been treated with CCA or penta account for about 5% of Duke
Energy’s wood waste. Unfortunately, this material cannot currently be
burned for biomass power generation or put to use in any other way;
therefore, it is taken to the landfill.
Conclusion. Let’s face it, each of us understands the importance of
recycling…but it’s not sustainable if it isn’t cost effective. This program
is proving that utility poles and other utility generated wood waste
can be recycled at a total cost similar to or below landfilling. Efficiency
will be gained as more utility companies decide to recycle their
wood waste and ultimately an industry will grow to serve this need.
Combine this with the fact that more biomass power plants are being
built every year and landfill costs are rising. The future looks bright for
wood waste recycling.

Reprinted from ASSET 2.0, the Investment Recovery Business Journal, Vol. 3, 2011

© The Investment Recovery Association



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