Workshop Explores Opportunities for Poplar

WSU Extension Workshop Brings Together Wastewater Treatment Facilities and the Wood Products Industry

By Nora Haider

Poplar growers and wood products professionals are looking at ways the two may work together to create more market opportunities. Municipalities growing poplar to manage wastewater from treatment plants are increasingly interested in learning more about existing markets for sawn lumber, veneer, and pulp and paper. At a workshop this fall in Vancouver, Washington, sponsored by Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest, over 40 people shared ideas on ways to collaborate.

Todd Miller, Environmental Management Analyst for the city of Springfield, Oregon recognized the benefits of collaborating with the wood products industries to find markets for the poplars he grows with recycled wastewater at the Biocycle Farm near Springfield, Oregon. “We are just starting to produce trees of harvestable age. Working directly with industries that are aware of poplar, we can better position our harvest yield and timing to meet market demands,” said Miller. “Plus, we can learn what poplar characteristics are important to buyers so that we can cultivate trees that meet those needs.”

Opportunities for growing poplar for high-value markets are on the rise. At the meeting in Vancouver, representatives from six wood products businesses outlined existing and potential markets for poplar grown in the Northwest, including furniture and building materials such as wall and ceiling paneling. The lightweight wood makes it an ideal wood for making action sports equipment such as snowboards and kiteboards. Poplar is also being considered as a component of cross-laminated timber (CLT), which is an engineered wood panel. CLT contains multiple layers of lumber oriented at right angles to one another and then glued together to form structural panels of exceptional strength.

Poplar has many uses, among them, it can be made into wall or ceiling paneling.

Pacific Northwest grown poplar is used for wall and ceiling paneling. Photo credit – Lee Jimmerson

Ethan Martin, Northwest Regional Director at WoodWorks – Wood Products Council, is enthusiastic about the potential of northwest-grown poplar in engineered wood products such as CLT. “Small diameter logs and engineered wood products are the future,” said Martin. “For CLT, the exterior layers need the higher strength and if we can use a lower strength wood such as poplar to separate the higher strength outer layers, this provides a more cost effective product. CLT is also being considered as alternative to concrete and steel with its multiple layers of lumber glued together in complete structural panels which provide exceptional durability.”

Getting poplar into these newer markets is of major interest to municipal wastewater treatment facilities growing poplar. Industry experts explained how poplar is grown with recycled effluent and biosolids from wastewater treatment facilities in Woodburn, Oregon and also at the Biocycle Farm managed by the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission near Eugene and Springfield, Oregon. These groups hope to gain duel benefits from growing the trees, preventing excess nutrients from entering local waterbodies and producing a marketable crop.

Potential bioenergy market opportunities, where poplar biomass would be used to produce biofuels and biochemicals, is getting closer to becoming reality as the first cellulosic biorefinery is expected to break ground next year in Boardman, Oregon. AHB is researching the potential of using poplar trees grown with recycled wastewater as a feedstock for biofuels and biochemicals. By collaborating with wastewater treatment facilities growing poplar, AHB could help develop an initial supply of feedstock that may one day supply additional biorefineries.

Miller is interested in growing poplar that can be used for a variety of uses. “We are eager to find markets that recognize the value in our poplar and that command a good market price to help sustain our operations.”

At the Oct 15 Wastewater Workshop industry representatives talked about the opportunities for poplar.

AHB leaders, Brain Stanton of Greenwood Resources and Tim Eggeman of ZeaChem, discuss market opportunities for poplar with other industry representatives.