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GSBN:Highly compressed bales

Enclosed is an article circulated among the membership of the Northwest 
Ecobuilding Guild about a company near Spokane, Washington, U.S.A., 
producing high density bales. This is followed by comments by Bob Platts 
of Scanada Engineering who has been messing with straw based 
construction materials since Elvis was a pup.

all the best,

Sustainable Works
C-2 Gordon Road
Nelson, British Columbia, Canada V1L 3E3
tel/fax: 250.352.3731
"Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better yesterday"

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{\operator Habib John Gonzalez}{\creatim\yr2001\mo1\dy12\hr15\min26}{\revtim\yr2001\mo1\dy12\hr15\min26}{\version2}{\edmins8}{\nofpages3}{\nofwords1335}{\nofchars7614}{\*\company WA Department of Ecology}{\nofcharsws0}{\vern8247}}\margl1440\margr1440 
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\fs24\lang1033\langfe1033\cgrid\langnp1033\langfenp1033 {\fs48 Venture to compress straw into building blocks\line }{\b\f1\fs20 Fresh Air Ag formed to find uses for grass-seed waste, way to avoid field burning}{\fs20 
\par }{\b\fs20 
\par By }{\field{\*\fldinst {\b\fs20 HYPERLINK "mailto:burkea@spokanejournal.com"}{\b\fs20 {\*\datafield 
00d0c9ea79f9bace118c8200aa004ba90b0200000003000000e0c9ea79f9bace118c8200aa004ba90b420000006d00610069006c0074006f003a006200750072006b00650061004000730070006f006b0061006e0065006a006f00750072006e0061006c002e0063006f006d0000000000000000}}}{\fldrslt {
\cs16\b\fs20\ul\cf2 Anita Burke}}}{\b\fs20   }{\fs20 O}{\fs18 F THE }{\fs20 J}{\fs18 OURNAL OF }{\fs20 B}{\fs18 USINESS }{\fs20 (Spokane, WA.)}{\fs20  
\par Fresh Air Ag LLC, a Cheney company launched by a group of Spokane County grass-seed growers and other businessmen to find alternatives to field burning, plans to begin within six weeks compressing waste straw into densely packed bales that can be used as 
building material or exported as animal feed.\line 
\par \'93We will take a product that was considered waste and make it a valuable, agricultural byproduct,\'94 says Steve Browning, a Fresh Air Ag principal.\line 
\par The company has invested more than $750,000 to develop a 20-acr
e site it owns on state Route 904, four miles west of Cheney, into a straw-compression facility, he says. The project is funded partly through a state revolving loan fund program administered by the Spokane County Conservation District, and also through i
nvestments by the members of the limited-liability company, says Browning, whose background is in exports and financing.\line 
\par Fresh Air Ag has built a 16,000-square-foot building to house bale-compressing equipment and to store straw, he says. The company bough
t its compression equipment from Steffen Systems Inc., a Salem, Ore.-based company started by a grass-growing family in the Willamette Valley to dispose of waste straw when Oregon officials cracked down on field burning, Browning says.\line 
Fresh Air Ag expects to start compressing straw as soon as it obtains a conditional use permit for its facility from Spokane County, Browning says. The company likely will employ about five people initially, he says.\line 
\par Fresh Air Ag plans to build eight sheds at its site to sto
re bulky field bales that are its raw material, but currently is keeping those bales in massive haystacks covered with tarps. A seasonal creek and wetland lay along the eastern edge of the property, which was previously a rock quarry, and the company plan
s to tout its ecological sensitivity by putting in a trail with informational signs about native plants, Browning says. The total cost of the completed straw-compression facility is expected to be near $1 million, he says.
\par }\pard \qc \li0\ri0\widctlpar\faauto\adjustright\rin0\lin0\itap0 {\b\fs20 
\par }\pard \ql \li0\ri0\widctlpar\faauto\adjustright\rin0\lin0\itap0 {\b\fs20 A burning problem
\par }{\fs20 \line Fresh Air Ag g
ot its start about two years ago when a group that includes farmers Larry Gady and John Cornwall, Browning, and Garry Padrta, founder of the now defunct Spokane trucking company WTB Inc., was looking for an economically viable and ecologically sound alter
native to field burning, Browning says. Changing state regulations and pressure from citizens groups was limiting the amount of field burning allowed, and grass-seed growers needed to find other ways to dispose of the straw left in fields after harvest.
\par Historically, after cutting down the grass and threshing out the seed, farmers left the stems and leaves laying on the field then set that residue ablaze to dispose of it, to control weeds and disease, and to encourage future production in the field.
\par Examining other options to get rid of the straw, the Fresh Air Ag founders learned that in the mid-1990s the U.S. had exported about 500 million tons of hay annually, and a market still existed abroad, especially in Asia, for bluegrass hay\emdash 
the kind that grass-seed growers grow\emdash to feed dairy cattle and horses, Browning says. They formed Fresh Air Ag last summer to pursue that market.\line 
\par For efficient shipping, hay for export is compressed into small, dense bales. Not only do the compressed bales take up far less s
pace in cargo holds during shipping than the same tonnage of conventional field bales, but small dairies in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan prefer the small bales, which don\rquote t require special equipment to handle, Browning says.\line 
\par This spring, builders interested i
n constructing homes from straw bales contacted Fresh Air Ag and asked about using the compressed bales as a building material, Browning says. From the days when homesteaders settled on the prairies, where little wood was available, to today when modern b
uilders have tapped sustainable materials with good insulating values, field bales have been employed in construction for more than 100 years. Their loose texture and variable sizes, however, have limited their use, he says.\line 
\par The compressed bales, which Fresh Air Ag will market for building as \'93ag-blocks,\'94 are of uniform sizes and so densely packed that a screw or nail can be driven into one just as if it were a block of wood, Browning says.\line 
\par \'93We\rquote ve had a great deal of interest in this building product,\'94 Browning says.\line Fresh Air Ag\rquote s plant will have the capacity to compress 50,000 tons of straw and hay a year, and the company\rquote 
s owners believe that entire output eventually could be used in the U.S. for construction, Browning says. This year, the company plans 
to buy and compress about 24,500 tons of hay and straw and expects that between 5,000 and 7,000 tons of that output will be used as ag-blocks in construction projects. Fresh Air Ag also hopes to do custom pressing for hay brokers who have international cu
stomers but don\rquote t have compression equipment of their own, Browning says.\line 
\par \'93We\rquote ll do a large amount of custom pressing this year, but will grow our export-hay and building-material production,\'94 to use the plant\rquote s entire capacity within several years, Browning says.\line 
\par While declining to make any predictions about Fresh Air Ag\rquote s expected revenues, he says the company should make a small profit this year after servicing all of its debts. 
\par }\pard \qc \li0\ri0\widctlpar\faauto\adjustright\rin0\lin0\itap0 {\b\fs20 
\par The pressing process
\par }\pard \ql \li0\ri0\widctlpar\faauto\adjustright\rin0\lin0\itap0 {\fs20 \line Fresh Air Ag\rquote s straw-compression machine will trans
form bulky field bales that are roughly 3 feet high, 3 to 4 feet wide, and 8 feet long into multiple tightly packed bales that are generally 12 inches wide, 14 inches high, and 17 inches long. Different size blocks can be produced easily thanks to the com
pression equipment\rquote s computer controls, Browning says.\line 
As a big bale is pushed through the compression machine by hydraulic power, it first will be sliced in half horizontally. The halves will be separated, and then chopped vertically into pieces, each care
fully weighed out to contain the same amount of straw. The pieces will be fed into the machine\rquote 
s compression chamber where up to 1 million pounds of hydraulic pressure will compress the bales, and they will be tied to hold them together. The knives that cu
t the large bales and the hydraulic components all are controlled electronically, Browning says.\line 
\par A forklift with an attachment will load export bales into shipping containers that can be transported by truck, rail, or ship. Bales that will be used locally for building likely will be transported to construction sites on flatbed trucks, he says. \line 

\par Even when the ties holding the compressed bales together are removed, the bales hold their shape because of the intense pressure used to form them, Browning says. 
No glues are used, and the bales can be broken apart easily for use as animal feed after the ties have been cut.
\par }\pard \qc \li0\ri0\widctlpar\faauto\adjustright\rin0\lin0\itap0 {\b\fs20 
\par }\pard \ql \li0\ri0\widctlpar\faauto\adjustright\rin0\lin0\itap0 {\b\fs20 Construction technique
\par }{\fs20 \line Ag-blocks will be laid like bricks, and a steel-wire mesh that usually is used to reinforce concrete slabs will be sta
pled to both sides of the blocks, says Don Stephens, a Spokane design consultant who specializes in environmentally friendly buildings and has designed homes using the compressed bales. Anchor wires will be run between the blocks in places to link the mes
 on each side of a wall of the blocks, and stucco usually will be applied to both sides of the wall, covering mesh. Where electrical conduit and plumbing need to be placed inside the wall, a wood router can be used to carve channels in the ag-blocks, he s
ays. \line 
\par If homeowners want a different look inside, putting stucco on the outside of the wall only is sufficient structurally, he says. Because the ag-blocks are similar in texture to wood, other finishing materials, such as wallboard, can be attached with s
crews or nails to the interior walls, he says. Other materials such as synthetic stone or log paneling can be affixed to the stucco inside or out to change the building\rquote s look, as well, he says.\line 
\par Applying stucco to ag-block walls inside and out creates a concrete-shell wall with tremendous strength that can support\emdash without any interior supporting wall\emdash 
roofs that span 40 or 50 feet, he says. Homes built with ag-blocks would have great flexibility for configuring interior space, and ag-blocks could be used to build commercial or office buildings and warehouses, he says.\line 
\par Ag-block walls are earthquake resistant, because the bales can sway slightly and absorb the force of a quake, Stephens says. The stucco might crack, but the walls should remain standing, he sa
ys. The walls also will be able to withstand fire for up to two hours, he says. The cost of building a home with ag-blocks will be similar to the cost of building a conventional wood-framed home, he says.\line 
\par Stephens says ag-block construction probably will 
have an insulation factor of at least R-32, while wood-frame construction has an insulation factor of R-19. When Fresh Air Ag begins producing ag-blocks, the compressed bales will undergo testing and certification by engineers to determine their specific 
qualities, he says. 
\par }}
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Subject: Re: Ag-Blocks
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 2001 06:39:21 -0800 (PST)
From: bob platts bobplatts@...
To: Habib John Gonzalez habibg@...

Habib, thank you very much.  Will forward the
compressed hay block article to Louis.  I had
always thought that such work with straw needed a lot
of heat as well as pressure to make it bind together
with the lignins that are naturally in wood and straw;
didn't know that pressure alone could do it.  (I had
studied the heat-and-pressure STRAMIT extruded straw
panel while at UNB in 1956, and have followed its
revivals some.)

Potentially very good indeed.  I think the insulation
value will be nore like R16 not 32, if it is really
that densely packed, but that's good enough for most
uses. They have the stressed skin idea well in hand
too.  Thanks again...Bob

--- Habib John Gonzalez habibg@... wrote:
> Hello Bob:
> I forgot to enclose this article from a Spokane, WA,
> business report on
> a local company going into the production of
> super-compressed waste
> straw blocks.
> Members of our NorthwestEcoBuilding Guild have
> visited the facility but
> I've not had a chance to talk to them about it.
> all the best,
> Habib
> --
> Sustainable Works
> C-2 Gordon Road
> Nelson, British Columbia, Canada V1L 3E3
> tel/fax: 250.352.3731
> "Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better

> ATTACHMENT part 2 application/rtf