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Cloverdale Fuel: Biomass Pioneer of the 1940s Continues to Play Lead Role
Biomass Pioneer: Early market leader continues to innovate when it comes to woody biomass, fuel and recycling wood waste. Learn how you can improve your waste management based on Cloverdale’s success.
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 7/1/2016
Early market leader continues to innovate when it comes to woody biomass, fuel and recycling wood waste. Learn how you can improve your waste management based on Cloverdale? success.
Biomass has been a rapidly growing component of the wood fiber market, but for Cloverdale Fuel, the trend is anything but new.
The British Columbia-based wood waste and transport company was formed during the World War II when oil and gas were in short supply and wood fuel for heat was urgently needed. Today, the company boasts the largest grinding machine in Western Canada, serving customers from its 14-acre site in Langley, as well as through satellite locations in British Columbia and Washington state.
The company offers a range of conventional markets for its fiber, as well providing material to a high tech syngas cogeneration plant at the University of British Columbia, one of the most advanced in North America. It has also become a key player in the growing wood recycling market, and meets the chain of custody recycling requirements of LEEDS and EPA/Green programs. Cloverdale Fuel was an early entrant into the wood waste sector, and has stayed on top by keeping abreast of industry trends.
Benefiting from the Success of Customers
One key success factor for business success can be in providing exceptional service to customers which turn out to be rising stars, and this has been the case with Cloverdale Fuel. The company is quick to attribute its success to the success of its customers. As customers established new facilities or have made acquisitions, Cloverdale Fuel has been called upon to provide its reliable service for handling wood residuals.
“A perfect example is when the softwood lumber duty began,” Gill elaborated. In order to avoid duty, some B.C. manufacturers began moving production into various locations in Washington state, including Bellingham, Ferndale, Everett and Sumas.
“When they moved down there, they told us that they wanted us to be their service provider,” Gill recalls. “They even underwrote our loan to buy the extra equipment required. Basically, they said ‘We’ll move you down here, and we want you to look after us.’ That’s how our U.S. growth began.”
Centrally Located Facility Ideal for Urban Waste Wood Recycling
The main Cloverdale Fuel site in north Langley is centrally located for wood waste arriving from the greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley areas. As a permitted wood waste recycling facility, it receives waste material from 7 am to 5 pm weekdays and from 8 am until noon on Saturday. It accepts wood waste in any form, including stumps, branches, fences, decking, millwork, wood chips and more.
“We are like a big wood junkyard,” Gill understated. “Not anything super fancy, just piles of wood that we grind down to make fuel, landscape mulch, ground cover, remediation wood for job site, or for blueberry farms.”
The company does provide chain of custody certificates for LEEDS and EPA/Green construction projects. When Cloverdale Fuel bins are picked up from a building site, instantaneous chain of custody certificates can be generated for the customer.
“If one of our bins is on a construction site that says “wood only,” that looks good for the LEEDS inspector,” Gill said. This service is becoming an increasingly important part of their business.
Cloverdale Fuel brings in material with its own trucking fleet, encompassing around 37 truck and trailer combinations as well as over 220 drop bins. Many years ago it became the first operation in British Columbia to employ walking floor trailers, investing in equipment from Keith and Hallco.
Wood pallet operations provide part of the incoming fiber stream. Cloverdale Fuel drops bins at a number of smaller pallet operations in its operating area. “We are actively looking for clean wood waste,” Gill stated. “We are happy to drop a bin and pick it up.”
The company employs three excavators for moving material. Reduction machinery includes a Hogzilla tub grinder, which is the largest stationary grinder in Western Canada. It handles a range of wood material, from lumber to logs and other woody debris. A Universal Refiner machine is used to reduce pallets and clean wood ends. For large mobile grinding requirements, Cloverdale Fuel relies on its tracked grinder, a Hogzilla 650HZL. Total annual throughput for the company was over 700,000 tons in 2015. Tents are used as required to keep material dry.
Selected as Fiber Supplier for Innovative Cogeneration Project
In 2011, Cloverdale Fuel was selected as the sole wood fiber supplier to an innovative high tech biomass cogeneration project at the University of British Columbia. Known as the Bioenergy Research Demonstration Facility (BRDF), the UBC facility is the first of its kind in North America. Biomass cogeneration is the combined generation of heat and power created through biomass, also referred to as CHP. The system works on a commercial scale to clean and condition biomass into an engine fuel grade synthesis gas, or syngas.
The UBC system uses the syngas in a raw form for heat generation only, or it can also create clean syngas that can be fed into an internal combustion engine to generate electricity. In thermal mode, the system creates steam that is distributed to campus locations through the university’s underground piping system. Operating in thermal, the plant can meet approximately 25% of the University’s heating requirement, helping it reduce its annual energy expenditure by over $800,000.
Also noteworthy from a wood products perspective, the $27.4 million facility was one of the first to be constructed in North America from Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), a new wood-based building material that is capturing attention as a renewal substitute for steel construction.
The system requires two to three truckloads of wood fiber daily. Gill stated that key considerations in winning the business included the quality of material and service, as well as the ability of the company to manage any supply issues that might emerge during the lifetime of the plant.
Your Word Is Your Word
Cloverdale Fuel was launched in 1945 by JDS Gill, the grandfather of Robby Gill, the current general manager. The elder Gill worked in the forest products industry, as was common for immigrants from India to British Columbia at that time. As a young man he quickly mastered spoken and written English, which facilitated his advancement in sawmills, where he was rapidly promoted to foreman positions. He then identified an opportunity in wood fuel, which took him down a different path in the wood products sector.
A German mill owner loaned JDS Gill money to buy his first truck. With one truck and one mill contract, he slowly began to build up his fleet and mill relationships. He sold firewood door to door. “Sometimes he wouldn’t even have a customer,” Robby Gill explained. “He would just fill up the truck with wood and then try to sell it to someone.”
During World War II, oil and gas were hard to acquire. Firewood was a staple for wood stoves and heaters, and this fuel was delivered by Gill or other operators of the period. Families stockpiled the material in their basement or in a shed. “That’s why we are called Cloverdale Fuel to this day,” Gill said.
Then as now, the company is bound by its commitment to customers. “There were no written contracts in those days,” Gill stated. Business was done on a handshake. Your word was your word.
“A lot of the longest customers have been with us for over 20 years, and that is the way that those relationships started,” Gill reiterated.
Other family members play key role at Cloverdale Fuel include his father, Darcy Gill, who is the company president. Darcy plays a more strategic role in market development, sourcing equipment, and maintaining relationships with customers. Hardip Gill, Robby’s uncle, is also active in the business, with primary responsibility for trucks and equipment. “He’s amazingly talented and has a very calm demeanor and way about him,” Robby Gill said. Karm Tatla, Robby’s brother, oversees grinding operations and staff. He has been with the company for more than 14 years.
Cloverdale Fuel Offers a Range of Services
Transportation is a critical element of the business, with low value material being moved into the yard for processing, and then outbound to customers. Around 25 of Cloverdale Fuel’s 40 employees are drivers. Company services include brokering of fiber, as well as the transportation of fiber for other companies. While it mostly hauls wood products, it will move loads of garbage or other materials as required by customers.
The Cloverdale Fuel approach is collaborative. “We provide consulting solutions for people in various jurisdictions,” Gill explained. “They are welcome to call us and we will tell them what works for us, and what we think will work for them. It is a commodity. Sometimes it is worth something, and sometimes it isn’t. If you have questions and are looking for solutions for what to do with your waste, we will help you with that.”
For more information, visit www.cloverdalefuel.com.