Recycling – a key for the future

28 September 2020


Wood preparation technology specialists PAL predicts more recycled wood will be used in MDF production as manufacturers look to find new and cheaper wood resource streams. Stephen Powney talks to Andrea Dal Ben, PAL director

Wood preparation, recycling and biomass technology specialist PAL, part of the IMAL PAL Group, was in a very good business situation when Covid-19 struck earlier this year.

Andrea Dal Ben, PAL director and son of CEO and co-founder Antonio Dal Ben, said 2018, 2019 and the start of 2020 had all been strong in terms of orders.

“The market for us was very good and we had great results with our company and in all the companies in our group,” he explained.

“We were obliged to close for one and half months because of the lockdown in Italy but we continued to operate as much as possible with smart working from home. In the last part of April we reopened the facilities with new procedures and we have been in full production since that time.

“The order income has had a small downgrade because of this situation, but for the moment we think the 2020 results will repeat the numbers of 2019.”

PAL is based near Venice and is a world leader in machines for the treatment and processing of fresh and recycled wood, for both wet and dry areas for the production of wood-based panels. Its Cleaning Tower, screens, sifters, Cyclops detection system and technology for wood pellet biomass plants are well-known internationally.

Some of its current biggest focus areas include recycling wood waste for making MDF and public projects for the recycling of waste. It has also increased the size of its manufacturing site and invested in new production technology.

“What we see is recycling is becoming one of the most important topics all around the world,” said Mr Dal Ben.

“It has started to grow a bit in North America and also in Asia they start to make plants for recycling. So, it is clear that for particleboard the future will be to use as much recycled wood as possible.

“The new challenge is we see there is more demand to use more recycling for the production of MDF. This is a new topic because some factories have started doing this with not always very good results.

“But now it is possible to have good results using recycled wood for MDF production. In Italy some panel producers are starting to be involved in this and we are also selling some systems outside of Italy. This is one of the main topics for the next years.

“The difficult thing is when you produce PB using recycled wood you need to have very good chip cleaning efficiency but you can manage some tolerance in this. In MDF the tolerance is much lower because of the structure of the board – you have no chance to have a piece of plastic or rubber in the surface which causes problems.

“The challenge is to have systems which have very big efficiency in cleaning. We are lucky because we do these kind of plants for 40 years. We know how we can separate and treat the different type of pollutants and how to achieve some grade of efficiency.”

Mr Dal Ben said panel producers wanted to use both first and second classes of recycled wood to reduce their material costs.

PAL’s wood recycling projects for MDF producers include one in Italy and two in China, while another project in China is already signed and two projects in Europe were agreed before the pandemic hit.

“These are all board producers. The interest is very, very high.”

PAL initially started working on projects where the percentage of recycled wood used in MDF production was very low – just 5-10%. Now it is up to 20-30%, with the potential to grow further.

“At the moment the MDF market is suffering a downgrade of the prices, so the only way to be competitive is to reduce production costs by using new technologies, like new gluing and screening systems, and also the wood costs. That is why we can expect an increase of these kind of projects.”

Of course, PAL is also involved in recycling more than just wood, with waste treatment for public projects coming high on the agenda.

“We started with wood but it is part of something which is bigger, and from a political point of view all the governments are pushing more in the green economy. This will be a growing business for the next years.”

Group Co-operation

Close co-operation within the IMAL PAL Group – comprising IMAL, PAL and GLOBUS – gives the group complete control of the costs and means it is not dependent on other suppliers. “It is like the same company,” said Mr Dal Ben.

Innovation has always been a strong feature of the group as it looks to defend its market position with new technologies. “We are improving our cleaning system with new technology and new machinery.

We are using optical systems and an X-ray selector for new kinds of kinetic separators. The time to bring new products to market is much shorter all the time.

“The only way to stay in the first level is to invest in the company and always have new technologies and also new kinds of products.

“IMAL is selling a big quantity of plants for making the blocks of the pallets using recycled material – this is a very good business and is a kind of product that started with our group.”

He also referenced the group’s development of technologies to make light strand board (LSB) – a product which combines OSB and particleboard – starting with Italian board producer I-Pan several years ago.

Projects

PAL reports that some projects have been delayed by the pandemic but the company has avoided cancellations.

Mr Dal Ben said European and US markets were perhaps weaker at the moment, but reported orders being taken for China and Korea, with some interest also from Europe.

“The situation is not too bad,” he said.

“Once they find a vaccine for the virus we think we will work as before.”

Final commissioning is taking place for a big wood pellet project in France, while another pellet project in Korea is starting assembly.

PAL has already done two previous projects in Korea, but this latest one is interesting in that it also includes a new belt dryer made by IMAL.

Mr Dal Ben also cited a wood pellet project in Norway.

“We are also following some big projects for industrial pellets in the US but these are still in the engineering phase.”

He also reported projects in Italy and China for wood cleaning for MDF lines, while in Italy PAL is erecting a plant for the treatment of public organic waste.

Two new projects together with IMAL are for pallet blocks in Russia and wood insulation board in Italy.

Knife ring flakers made by GLOBUS are also going strong, with 20-30 flakers currently in production. The technology’s special distribution system to improve the quality of the flakes and to give big capacities is being well received in the industry.

“The flakers market for the group is growing year by year, the product is very good and the market appreciates this kind of machine. We think in the next years we will increase the selling of these flakers.”

Elsewhere, PAL has a recycling project in Spain for Finsa Group and three projects in parallel for pallet blocks – one in Dubai, one in Holland and one in France. These are all starting installation now.

For these, PAL is doing all the wood preparation systems and IMAL is handling the gluing, pressing and control systems. PAL also has various Chinese projects for screens and sifting systems which are shipping now – mainly for particleboard plants.

A further big Chinese project is for LSB that will ship in October and comprises a screening system in wet and dry areas and sifting.

PAL is also doing upgrading work on screen, sifting and silo extraction at Kastamonu’s Samsun factory in Turkey. There is also a focus on making boards from various alternative biological resources, such as palm, rice and straw.

“We’ve done a lot of experiments with palm and other materials and seen it is possible to obtain good quality product, not only boards, but also blocks and other types of products. This will grow in the next years, for sure.”

“So, considering the Covid-19 situation we think the results at the moment are very good,” Mr Dal Ben concluded.

“We are optimistic for this year and the good thing for the next year is we have a very good situation with an order pipeline with already signed contracts,” he added.

PAL expects use of recycled wood to make MDF to grow in the coming years
PAL’s Cyclops detection system