Wood Resource Recovery

Urban Wood Waste Provider

By Jessica Johnson
GAINESVILLE, Fla.

 

When Bill Gaston, now 62, started working in the tree trimming business, or as he calls it, climbing trees, at 17 he had no idea what his future held. He knew he liked being outside. He knew he was developing a skill that would carry him through life.

About age 20, when Gaston realized he was actually in business for himself trimming trees, he still didn’t know what the future held. Flash forward a few decades and the small tree company is now one of Florida’s largest tree companies, serving many different purposes. The original company, Gaston’s Tree Service, is still intact, run by Gaston’s son Shawn, 42.

Today Bill and his brother Levin, 58, focus their energy toward Wood Resource Recovery, a wood recycling firm that does everything from land clearing to storm cleanup to simply accepting competing tree trimming services’ debris. Why? Because Wood Resource Recovery over the last few years has been preparing for the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC) biomass power plant to go online.

Gaston remembers that it was several years ago that the city of Gainesville began to think about what the next energy source was going to be. After a long process, one that included going before the Governor of Florida, converting wood waste to fuel was selected.

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“As soon as the plant started construction we stopped selling a large volume to other people and started increasing volume coming in for storage,” Gaston explains.

GREC projects that it will need between 1 million and 1.2 million tons of fuel wood annually to run the boiler. A large portion of that fuel wood will be from Wood Resource Recovery’s urban wood waste collection sites located around north central Florida. In fact, Gaston and Wood Resource Recovery have a 30-year purchase order from GREC to supply 45% of the needed fuel wood. “Our number one focus in terms of collection is meeting the requirements with Gainesville Renewable Energy,” Gaston says.

So how is the small wood recycling firm handling the big job? With lots of growth Gaston says. As of right now, Wood Resource Recovery has 12 collection sites and by the end of 2014 will operate 20 sites. At these sites, which are more aptly called collection centers, a few different things happen, but mainly the grinding and chipping is done. The main collection center is less than 10 miles from the GREC plant, and houses Wood Resource Recovery’s office and equipment shop.

At the various collection centers, consumers can bring their yard waste and tree debris for recycling into fuel wood. Landscapers, competing tree trimming services, the city of Gainesville and Alachua County also bring collected yard waste and tree debris for recycling.

“The city and county converted to paper bags for yard waste so the power plant could take it,” Gaston explains. “Excavators help dry it out then it’s run through the [trommel] screen. Curbside yard waste is primarily tree and scrub trimmings and leaves which are good for fuel.  We screen our yard waste to remove fines, dirt and sand. That material is turned to a soil and sold for planting.”

Since Wood Resource Recovery operates under the same umbrella as Gaston’s Tree Service, all waste from the company’s tree trimming also comes into the collection centers for recycling. Wood Resource Recovery also has trucks with mounted knuckleboom loaders to go to a customer’s location and pick up any debris for recycling.

Every truck, van and/or trailer that comes into the center passes Mettler Toledo scales before then having the load inspected by a member of Wood Resource Recovery’s staff for contamination. Gaston finds that this helps cut down on unwanted materials. “Occasionally people bring the wrong kind of trash,” he says.

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Once the load has been weighed and inspected it moves on to being sorted. Everything brought into the collection center is run through a Wildcat brand trommel screen, which separates out the fuel wood from the organic material.

The fuel wood is ground up and then taken to the GREC plant. Organic material is processed and then turned into compost. “Compost is available for anyone who wants it,” Gaston says.

Grinding is done using Morbark 1600 tub grinders, fed using Deere excavators. Wood Resource Recovery also makes use of Morbark track 50/48 drum chippers. The most recent purchases are the Morbark 1600s with Cat 1200 HP engines, and the track 50/48 chippers with knuckleboom loaders. The tub grinders have 11 ft. 2 in. tub diameters. The largest tub grinder on the market, with a capacity of 20 cubic yards, the Morbark 1600 tub grinder uses factory-balanced hammermills to yield a mulch like consistency. The Morbark 50/48 whole tree drum chipper is the largest Morbark chipper. Since Wood Resource Recovery’s material needs to pass through a 2.5 in. screen once in GREC’s yard, a combination of grinder and chipper is the most productive. GREC is very liberal as far as specs go. Urban wood waste is more conducive to grinding than chipping, hence Wood Resource Recovery has more grinders than chippers.

Wood fuel is taken to the plant from the collection centers by various brands of trucks, mainly rented from Ryder, with possum belly chip van trailers. Gaston is in the process of negotiating with the Ryder dealership to supply all the needed trucks for chip vans as well as the self-loading knuckleboom trucks. Gaston says that ultimately, Wood Resource Recovery will run 20 self-loading knuckleboom trucks with 40 box trucks to haul vegetation.

The GREC plant will not be open 24/7 for Wood Resource Recovery to drop loads, but by making use of transfer centers—areas where loaded and unloaded trailers sit in convenient locations and drivers can drop and pick up at any time of night—Wood Resource Recovery will be able to run 24/7. GREC’s goal is to have 60,000 tons in inventory at their facility yard in Gainesville at all times.

Machinery Maintenance

Wood Resource Recovery and Gaston’s Tree Service both operate out of a small 2,400 sq. ft. building at the main collection center in Gainesville. Fleet Manager Norman Waddle works on all equipment for the tree service division and the recycling division, as well as all trucks, out of a 12,000 sq. ft. shop. David Cahan runs the main office, keeping track of truck drivers DOT files, monitoring the scales and taking care of any daily office tasks that may arise.

In recent months the company has grown too much, Gaston admits, and needs a bigger shop, and a bigger office. A larger shop and office are in the works, with the purpose of maintaining grinders, trucks and other heavy equipment. The new shop will be set up to allow Waddle to do basically everything from routine maintenance to mounting knucklebooms to rebuilding grinders.

Currently Gaston employs 35, but over the next 12 to 24 months, as the company continues to grow at a rapid clip, Gaston will employ nearly 100 between more office staff, new centers and more truck drivers.

“Norman’s the man!” Gaston says with exuberance after discussing a potential truck purchase with his Fleet Manager. The two have a close working relationship and it is clear Waddle knows what he’s doing and Gaston trusts him, an important element to the success of Wood Resource Recovery. “We pretty much do everything in house,” Waddle says.

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Each day the Morbark grinders are greased and the radiator is blown off as well as the engine. Waddle believes keeping the radiator and engine clean helps efficiency. Wood Resource Recovery goes through an average of four to six grinder teeth a shift.

Oil in the grinders is changed every 250 hours or 5,000 gallons of fuel, whichever comes first; oil in the excavators is changed every 500 hours. Waddle takes excellent care of all the heavy equipment, proudly saying, “Morbark engines, the older ones, are running for 8,000 hours. One even has original injectors.”

Waddle likes Deere excavators because he believes they are built to last. For the self-loading knuckleboom trucks, Waddle prefers Peterbuilt or Kenworth brand trucks with older Cat engines. “They burn less fuel, have a lot more power and they last,” he says.

Gaston relies on Larry Burkholder, long-time representative of Morbark, Inc., as his salesman and communication channel direct to the factory in Winn, Mich. Gaston has been using Morbark grinders for as long as he’s been in the wood recycling business, says Burkholder, who adds that over the years Gaston (and by extension Waddle) have done plenty of research and design for Morbark, just as Morbark has done plenty of customizing for Wood Resource Recovery.

Community Awareness

As with many that run trucking businesses, Gaston feels the pinch as diesel fuel prices continue to rise. He also sees the value in trying out new technologies, especially when these new technologies help lower the company’s carbon footprint, which is why Waddle and his team are currently converting all trucks to run on natural gas.

“Why natural gas? The technology is available,” Gaston says. He also prides himself on thinking not only about what’s best for his company, but how it will impact the community, environmentally speaking.

“We’re taking a liability that creates a big problem and turning it into an asset that solves a lot of problems. There’s always a fringe group of people that are going to come out and wave a flag and say ‘we don’t want this!’ and that’s the one thing that’s constant throughout the country. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing,” Gaston laments.

But in an industry such as urban wood recycling, being mindful about decisions is important. Something Gaston does not take lightly. “Shoot we could put in a transfer station that could lower the carbon footprint and make everyone’s life easier,” he says, “and someone’s going to have a problem with where you want to put it and why you want to put it there.”

He continues, “What that does is cause all the people that make the decisions to make better decisions.” Wood Resource Recovery is trying to improve its community outreach, educate people on what exactly it does, how it does it and why.