>Keith Gorzell                                                                                            
>Structural and Decorative Panel Products from
>Tree Free Agricultural Materials
>Keith Gorzell is Vice President of Meadowood Industries, Inc. and heads the
>business development office in Belmont California. The company has provided
>alternative or "green" building materials from sustainable agriculture since 1977.
>Meadowood develops, manufactures and markets unique decorative and
>structural boards, panels, and molded products, primarily from Oregon ryegrass
>in a small-scale production facility. Keith has served as a consultant to other
>Ag-board plant projects, including traveling to China in the spring of 2000 and
>fall of 2003 to evaluate the resources and opportunities for Ag-board production
>in that country.
>Keith will give an overview of the Ag fiber board industry, including the current
>opportunities and challenges in manufacturing "tree and formaldehyde free"
>panel products from various agricultural materials.

Keith Gorzell began his talk by explaining that Meadowood Industries is the oldest supplier of Ag-board (woody things made from agricultural byproducts) products that is still in the industry. One of the reasons is because they have a detailed understanding of the requirements of the industry, and another is the fine premium price that their products bring in places where elegant woodish products are called for.

Gorzell then explained that one of the inspirations for the industry was the problems associated with burning straw at the end of harvest season. Meadowood's objective is "Cost effective production of building and molded materials made from agricultural crop residue will offset emissions from some open field burning and provide revenue to growers." He showed us an assortment of woodlike boards, some molded into curvy shapes and others just boards of various thicknesses from 3/8" to more than an inch. Some of them had glossy surfaces and looked quite nice. Most were the color of blonde wood.

Gorzell then explained that Ag-board is a good substitute for plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), or medium density fiberboard (MDF). It has good fire retardant qualities, and is lighter and stronger that the other materials it competes with. At the moment the primary Ag-board markets are specialty shaped furniture, architectural accents and industrial fixtures. He would like to have the stuff be widely available, but often when he gets a lumberyard to carry the stuff, a wood vendor will say something like "you can carry that stuff, or you can carry our stuff", and the yard will give up on Meadowood because the owner needs to sell a lot of plywood and boards to stay in business.

Beyond the pollution prevention of getting beyond burning straw, there are other environmental/green market drivers. Government and institutional buildings now must include 10% to 25% recycled or green content, which using Ag-board counts towards. Also, the US Green Building Council has a Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) standard, and Meadowood qualifies for LEED points. The current panelboard market  is estimated to be $12 Billion in the USA, and $14 Billion outside the USA. That is quite a potential market for meadowood type products.

Keith finished his talk by explaining that the most cost effective way to build the Ag-board market is by acquiring and upgrading traditional particle board making machines. These are quite heavy, (750 to 1000 tons) and fairly expensive. An investor needs to be looking long term to make money, but the opportunity is there. He talked about a machine that had come available last year, but he hadn't been able to get together financing to buy it. Instead it had been chopped up and sold to the Chinese as scrap metal.

During Q&A a number of interesting points came up:

The solvent used to make the resin that is used to bind together the plant matter has gone up in price a lot in the past year. It used to be $1.5/gallon, now it is $4/gallon.

Ag-board from Meadowood does not outgas formaldehyde, making it a safer product to live near than plywood. It is also stronger and lighter.

To use Ag-board in more buildings, the product needs to go through a $200,000 certification procedure. For this to make economic sense, Meadowood needs a bigger plant. The company is seeking financial partners.

Meadowood uses Oregon Ryegrass as its main fiber input.

Every year California produces a million tons of agricultural fiber. Right now, less than a quarter of one percent of it is used to make Ag-board.

For more information, please visit http://www.meadowoodindusties.com/.

Tian Harter