Hitting the trade shows in search of innovation

By Tom Gocze, BDN Staff
Posted March 26, 2010, at 9:03 p.m.

We are officially into the season for springtime shows — home shows, boat shows, garden shows, even paper shows.

Although we have not been locked up with a typical case of cabin fever, many of us still head to the local civic center to look at the latest and greatest heating, siding and other home add-ons that we either need or think we cannot live without.

I enjoy going to home shows and running up and down the aisles just to see what is new. I use home shows as a place to get ideas. Then I research. The Internet is a good adjunct to the home shows.

Many years ago, I had the experience of having a booth at some home shows and also some builders’ conferences. I really got to dislike the experience. Don’t get me wrong. I tend to talk a lot, but after two or three days of talking about heating stuff, I would lose my voice and really wanted to take a nap.

The logging trade show in Bangor last spring was a little different. I had never been to one before and there was a lot of cool stuff. And there were gigantic machines that made lots of noise and chewed up logs and spit out chips faster than one could imagine.

That show seemed a lot more relevant to me than looking at potato slicer demos. (Please, chefs and potato slicer vendors, don’t be insulted. There is nothing better than slicing potatoes, except for logging equipment.)

The idea of anything mechanical making logging and wood processing simpler and safer seems relevant to life in Maine.

The one thing I missed was seeing a wood chunker. This is technology that is stuck in my head.

The wood chunker was researched at the University of Maine by professor Norm Smith back in the 1970s and ’80s. This may sound strange, but it made wood chunks.

The wood chunker processed smaller, potentially nonmarketable wood into fist-sized pieces that could be used as firewood.

So why have I become smitten with wood chunks? Well, they are simpler to handle than stick wood. They also can be manufactured simply with the proper equipment and they are big enough pieces to air-dry like stick wood. Since they are smaller than regular sticks of firewood, they also can dry faster. Chunked wood can be packaged in bulk storage bags that are used to transport bulky products, such as grain.

And, so far, no one is manufacturing a wood chunker that I know of.

Such a concept might never catch on. It hasn’t since Smith and Dick Hill were messing with the fuel more than 25 years ago.

Then again, wood pellets took quite awhile to kick into high gear.

As the biomass marketplace matures and develops, I suspect we will see more choices than we have access to now.

Demand could develop for such a fuel since it can be used in any wood-burning stove or furnace, especially since it is simpler to handle than conventional firewood.

And it will refine the marketplace by making some waste wood available as a viable product. And if we can decrease the cost of labor and risk from working in the woods, this is another positive thing.

We need a good-quality, reasonably priced wood chunker! If you see one at a trade show, let me know.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/03/26/business/hitting-the-trade-shows-in-search-of-innovation/ printed on July 24, 2014