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Texas Company Pioneers Sustainable Pallets Made of Corn

Prototype of the $15 million carbon-negative CornBoard manufacturing facility / Photo: C.D. Smith Press Release

Stratford, Texas-based CornBoard Manufacturing is on a mission to slow the cutting down of trees and replace the wood used to make shipping pallets with eco-friendly material: corn plant remnants. CornBoard notes, pallet production accounts for the greatest use of U.S.produced hardwood lumber. It’s estimated that a whopping 1.8 to 1.9 billion pallets are used each day nationwide.

CornBoard wants to change that metric. That’s why it plans to construct a $15 million carbon-negative manufacturing plant in northwest Iowa where it will build eco-friendly shipping pallets out of its patented CornBoard product. CornBoard is a cleaner wood-alternative composed of corn stover – the stalks, husks, and leaves that remain in a field after harvest.

“Every day at least 8 million trees are deforested. By utilizing the vast supply of corn stover that remains after corn harvest, we can save many millions of trees each year by reducing the need to harvest our forests for pressed board products. What’s more, the entire supply of corn stover returns the following year,” the company says on its site.

The 50,000 square foot plant will be constructed in Sac County, Iowa, by Wisconsin-based construction management firm C.D. Smith through a partnership with engineering and architecture firm McMahon Associates – also based in Wisconsin.

Corn Board’s CEO Lane Segerstrom told the Des Moines Register that construction is scheduled to begin in the spring and that the plant will create up to 30 new jobs.

“The leading-edge nature of this project appeals to us,” C.D. Smith’s President and CEO, Justin Smith said in a company press release. “Our involvement speaks to our desire to be on the forefront of innovation and an industry leader in environmentally sustainable construction. We’re excited to be part of this transformational effort.”

As the Des Moines Register reports, the company says that its CornBoard can be used to create pallets that weigh less than wooden ones but possess the same strength and sturdiness. CornBoard currently manufactures products like skis, snowboards, skateboards, and furniture out of CornBoard.

According to CornBoard, its patented product is made by sifting, sorting, and combining corn stover with a resin. Next, heat and pressure are used to bond the materials, creating a solid product.

The company says it currently uses a non-formaldehyde resin in the bonding process, and that development is underway on a proprietary resin that will further increase eco-friendliness.

“The process to make CornBoard was developed, refined, and patented by leading researchers at the University of Illinois,” CornBoard says. “Our goal is to make CornBoard one of the greenest and most environmentally responsible building materials on the market.”

About 30 to 50 farmers will be relied on to provide around 50,000 bales (50 million pounds) of corn stover per year. The company could pay farmers up to $750,000 for the corn remnants which Segerstrom says CornBoard will bale and transport. He adds that he is looking into other factory settings “to meet the growing demand for eco-friendly pallets.”

“Leaving a Carbon Legacy is a ‘domino’ effect of many actions,” CornBoard explains. “The positive aspects of growing corn and harvesting the stover for CornBoard production is simple: It economically reduces or sequesters CO released into the atmosphere. This domino effect of CO sequestration can approach 10.25 tons per acre, which in total is equal to removing the CO emissions of well over 100 million automobiles annually.”

Iowa is the country’s leading producer of corn with a projected 2.48 billion bushels grown in 2020 alone. That’s a lot of pallets (and trees saved). For further perspective, “If 20 percent of the available corn stover in Iowa was pressed into 4’x8′-half-inch thick boards, it would cover 251,212 football fields or 332,182 acres,” C.D. Smith said in its press release.

“The time has come for business to adapt and deliver life’s essentials in a nature-positive way,” said Segerstrom in the C.D. Smith release. “This project is a collaborative effort between like-minded organizations who are striving to do the right thing for our environment and our communities. Bringing quality jobs and economic development to Rural America through this carbon negative plant is extremely exciting.”

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