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Marius C. BARBU1, Martin STEINWENDER2,
1 Dr, Prof., Universitatea Transilvania din Braov, Facultatea de Ingineria Lemnului
Visiting Professor of the Center for Wood Science, University of Hamburg.
Address: Str. Colina Universitatii Nr.1, 500068 Braov, Romnia
Dr., Manager Competence Center/Authorized Officer - Fritz Egger GmbH & Co.
Address: Tirolerstrasse 16, 3105 Unterradlberg, Austria

Abstract: In the last few years the production of wood panels, mainly of MDF, PB and OSB, went worldwide
through a dramatic growth period. The rapid increasing production capacities forced a dynamic
mechanization and automation of this industrial sector. The environmental aspects of this development have
just recently become in the focus of public interest due to increasing environmental requirements. In the
past different technologies to reduce environmental impact has been developed, while due to the practical
experiences only some of them can be stated as state of the art. The regulations for air emissions in
Central European countries required the conception of new treatment plant, which established a new state of
the art in the environmental technology. For the production of PB the wet electrostatic precipitator has been
recognised to be the most effective system in terms of investment as well as running costs and also in terms
of environmental benefits for the cleaning of the gas coming from direct fired dries. For MDF factories it was
possible to combine the advantages of known technologies for waste air and water and to develop them
further firstly to a pilot plant and later to the state of the art in this field. This new system completely closed
all water cycles of the production site and minimized the exhaust of air pollutants. During more than five
years operation this system clearly proved its economical and technical advantages. The development of
this treatment plant prevailed new experiences and know-how, which are very helpful for the design and
optimization of new equipment generation for reducing the environmental impact of the wood based panels
Key words: wood based panels, PB, MDF, OSB, waste water, waste air, environment impact.


In the last decade the production of wood panels and in special of MDF (Medium Density
Fiberboard), PB (Particleboard) and OSB (Oriented Strand Board) went worldwide through a dramatic growth
(over 50% at 245 mill.m/year) period. The rapid increasing production capacities and the so caused tougher
competition in the market forced a dynamic mechanization and automation of this industrial sector. Modern
production lines are able to produce depending on board type: 1.200 m MDF, 1.600 m OSB and 2.000 m
PB per day in average. The environmental aspects of this development have become in the focus of
industrial interest due to increasing environmental requirements by the officials [Barbu et al. 2009;
Steinwender et al. 2009].
The state of the art of the last decades for the waste air treatment resulting by the particle drying is a
combination between a quenche (scrubber) and a wet electrostatic precipitator (WESP). For the waste air
resulting from the fibre drying the state of the art treatment is again a WESP and quenche using water from
the waste water treatment unit.
The levels for the emissions generated in the wood based panels production lines are not the same
inside of the EC. Some of the equipment (parts) and some production steps are controlled by directives like:
- Large Combustion Plants (LCP) 2001/80/EC which stipulated emission from power plants with thermal
capacities over 50 MWth
- VOC directive 1999/13/EC controls for some production steps the level of Volatile Organic Compounds


- Integrated Pollution, Prevention and Control (IPPC) directive 96/61/EC and 2008/1/EC stipulates the path
of the environment authorisation for specified activities and also the obligation of equipment user for the
utilization of best available techniques (BAT) [Barbu et al. 2009; Steinwender et al. 2009]
The implementation of the European directives is different from one country to the other of EU. For
example in Romania this implementation is stipulated by OUG nr. 152/2005 and requests a 100% use of the
European directives in the environment protection laws.
Also the interpretation of the EU directives from the member states is not identically. For example
the Romanian environment protection authorities consider the direct drying of particle and fibre as a part of
IPPC directive if the installed thermal capacity is more than 50 MW. Opposite, in Germany and Austria the
environment protection authorities consider for the direct particle drying not the IPPC applicable. Further the
Romanian Environment protection authorities consider for the whole manufacturing of wood based panels
the IPPC directive applicable [Barbu et al. 2009; Steinwender et al. 2009]
The IPPC directive is still in reviewing process but it is to consider that the activity for producing
wood based panels will be covered in the future. For some production steps the air emissions are regulated
by the German ordinance called TA-Luft (2002), which is used not only in Germany and is considered as
state of the art. Another example is UK, where the national IPPC documents (DEFRA, 2006) are describing
as state of the art for processes of the wood based panels industry.

In the last decade some specialised techniques for the waste air treatment coming from the particle
and fibre drying became state of the art. The IPPC directive use the term BAT (best available technology), as
described in the article 2, clause 11: best available techniques: shall mean the most effective and
advanced stage in the development of activities and their methods of operation which indicate the practical
suitability of particular techniques for providing in principle the basis for emission limit values designed to
prevent an where that is not practicable, generally to reduce emissions and the impact on environment as a
whole. For production steps included in the Annex 1 of IPPC directives is described the state of the art in
each EU state. A summary of it is also available in the BREF (Best available techniques reference
documents) [].
The main sources of emissions for waste air are the drying of particle and fibre and also during the
hot pressing of boards. The German directives, VDI 3462, consider particulate mater and organic parts like
terpenes, formaldehyde, aromatic hydro carbons, organic acids and odour as main components in the waste
air of wood based panel production equipment generated during particle and fibre drying (VDI, 1995). The
waste air from the hot press contains organic components dependent on the used resin (phenolic,
isocyanates etc.) [Barbu et al. 2009; Steinwender et al. 2009].
The term particulate matter means mainly wood dust, but for the direct drying some mineral particle
(ashes) are also present - if wood waste is used for the heat generation. More than 90% of the organic
substances can be classified as natural substances which can be detected in the air of forests and rural
areas as well [Steinwender 1997]. Formaldehyde is another organic substance, which also occurs during the
wood particle drying. The content of free formaldehyde depends on wood species and could reach 0,7
mg/100g oven dried board using the perforator method according the EN 120 [Weigel 2009]. During the
drying of wet glued wood fibre (MDF dry process) an important part of the free formaldehyde is generated
from the resin (mainly urea-formaldehyde).
The description of the state of the art for the particle drying started some decades ago. It is
described many ways to clean the waste air resulting from particle drying, despite that many of the
developed techniques were fare away from the state of the art considering nowadays regulations. Some
developments are focussing aspects regarding the optimization of the process in order to reduce emissions
from dryer, i.e. close the loop for the recirculation of steam. One aspect should be still mentioned, that such
techniques transfer the emissions from waste air in the waste water, which requests again supplementary
equipment for cleaning.
For the cleaning of waste air resulting from direct heated dryers a new technique established well,
the combination between a scrubber (quenche) and a WESP (wet electrostatic precipitator). The WESP is
provided from many equipment suppliers and is known as a safe technique regarding the whole process (fire
hazard, cleanness, equipment availability) and also appropriate costs for its use. For the production sites
where a waste water treatment unit is available it is also possible to win energy from the condensation of
steam in the dryer.
In the early 90s developed Steinwender (1997) the new technique using the WESP concept. Using
this equipment combination it was possible in only one process step consisting of two separate scrubbers to


eliminate the water soluble components of waste air i.e. organic acids, aldehydes (formaldehyde) and coarse
dust. During the cooling of the waste air in the first scrubber from approx. 120C to the saturation
temperature of 65 75C some organic compounds like terpens (which is the main part of VOC in the waste
air) - are condensing also together with a part of particulate matter and could be separated in this way in the
wet electro-filter. One of the major topics to be solved was to maintain a secure process. The cleaning of the
condensation-tubes of WESP was a main topic and a cyclic automatic cleaning system was therefore
The water used for the quenche is sprayed in opposite direction to the waste air (gas) flow and
collected in the waste water cleaning system. Goal of the waste water treatment is the pre-cleaning in order
to be treated it in the public sewage plant without any problems. Different techniques for the separation of
floating matters from waste water were developed and finally the flotation system using flocculants based on
polyelectrolytes proved to be the best of. The separation of solid matters from the waste water cycle could be
also provided by a decanter [Barbu et al. 2009; Steinwender et al. 2009].
The total efficiency of the WESP-equipment for the main compounds is presented in the Table 1.
Based on many measurements the minimum efficiency degrees respectively the maximum concentration of
compounds in cleaned air side could be determined. The evaluation of the blue haze was done by using a
diffusion-light photometer, which could be use successfully due to its measurement principle for aerosols
having diameters smaller than 0,1m. An objective measurement method for blue haze is necessary
because the visual evaluation is strongly influenced by light, sun position versus the position of observer and
the afterimage.
Table 1: Efficiency of a WESP equipment for a direct heated particle dryer of 250.000 m/h (crude gas)
Organic acids
Organic C - VOC
Blue haze

Clean air [mg/m]

Efficiency [%]
4- 15
> 50%
7 -13
> 90 %
> 80 %
50 130
> 50 %
> 95%

The washing of waste air reduces also odour - reduction at 50% and also change the type of odours
[Ebermann 1992]. Probands classified the waste air odour resulting from particle dryers before the
cleaning step as penetrant and after treatment as typical woody, not unpleasant.
Especially for the MDF production due to their specifics, i.e. squeezed water from chips and direct
drying of wet glued fibre, the environmental technique is still a relatively new topic, which has to deal meanly
with the treatment of waste water (similar to TMP waste water) and waste air (VOC and dust).
For the conception of the last generation of MDF plants the goal was rather to combine the
advantages of known technology and to develop them further [Portenkirchner et al. 2004; Barbu et al. 2008].
The new generation of equipment should completely close all water cycles of the production site and
minimize of the exhaust of air pollutants.
Waste water ingredients
The waste water of modern MDF plants (average 350 m/day, last generation 500 m/day) is
originated by squeezing out free water from the washed wood chips. Characteristic for this waste water is the
high, oscillating organic load (Table 2) with a normal COD (chemical oxygen demand) of 7.000 mg/l. The
extraction of organic acids from the (soft) wood makes the waste water acid (pH = 5,5). The nitrogen load is
on contrary to the phosphorus load too low to support a biocenosis adequately. The solid matter of this
waste water is about 3 g/l and contents mostly fine wood particles [Thompson et al. 2001].
Exhaust air ingredients
The drying of steamed and resinated wood fibers (m.c.>100%), results in high quantities of waste air
(average 500.000 m/h, last generation 700.000 m/h), with highly oscillating concentrations of solid and
gaseous pollutants. The emitted dust contents 45% wood dust and wood fibers and 55% inorganic flue ash
from the energy plant because of direct heating of dryer. The gaseous pollutants are mainly pyrolysis
products (i.e. formaldehyde, carbon acids, ...) and partly vaporized volatile wood chemicals (i.e. terpens)
[Barbu et al. 2008].


Treatment plant description

The key ideas of a modern waste air / water treatment plant have been (Figure 1):
grouping the waste air and waste water treatment plant by combining the water cycles in an aerobic,
thermophilic activated sludge process,
closure of all water cycles by combining a biological cleaning stage with a reverse osmosis and usage of
the permeat for process steam generation,
combination of various waste air cleaning systems for the elimination of gaseous pollutants
(quenche/scrubber) and aerosols (wet electrostatic precipitator) [Portenkirchner et al. 2004].
Waste air

Purified air




water tank



Activated sludge tank

Air (DAF)







5 m-Filter


Figure 1: Combined waste water and waste air treatment plant for a MDF plant [Portenkirchner et al, 2004.]
Moreover the activated sludge suspension is also used as washing water for the bio-scrubber,
where it is directly injected into the waste air flow. The washed out gaseous pollutants are then biologically
degraded in the activated sludge tank. Therefore the temperature of the activated sludge regulates itself
approximately to the adiabatic saturation temperature of the waste air (45 60C), which is quite high for a
biological cleaning system.
All waste water flows of the plant are collected in a central tank. From there the excess waste water
is transported over a bow screen and a clarifier (separation of the wood particles) into an activated sludge
tank. In this aerated tank (dissolved oxygen, DO = 1 2,5 mg/l) an adapted, aerobic biology settles. The
system is specialized on the degradation of organic components without a sludge recycling. The elimination


of nitrogen or phosphor has never been an aim, because of the anyhow short nutrient offer in the waste
water (Figure 1).
Generally the waste air treatment plant consists of three stages (Figure 1):
Spraying system (rough dust and formaldehyde removal, air cooling)
Bio-scrubber (formaldehyde removal)
Wet electrostatic precipitator (dust and aerosol removal) [Portenkirchner et al. 2004, Barbu et al. 2008].
The activated sludge suspension is also used for the bio-scrubber and WESP.
After the biological treatment the waste water quality does still not satisfy the requirements for the
feed water of a reverse osmosis. To reach stable condition for reverse osmosis operation following further
cleaning and conditioning stages were implemented: chemical precipitation and flocculation, dissolved air
flotation, multi media filtration, pH-adjustment and antiscalent dosage and 5 m-filtration (Figure 1).
The three stage reverse osmosis is designed for a permeate gain of 90%, a maximal pressure of 30
bar (i.e. feed water flow of 30 m/h). To increase the flux over the membranes, every stage has its own cycle
pump. The membranes are a special development optimized for retaining organic components with a low
tendency for blockages [Barbu et al. 2008].
The sludge from the clarifier and the flotation are jointly collected in a stirred tank. From there the
suspension is dewatered by a decanter centrifuge. The concentrate of the decanter centrifuge can be
recycled into the raw water or into the activated sludge tank (Figure 1).
Following parameters of the process were measured [Portenkirchner et al. 2004]:
N-NH4 and P-pPO4 by fotometric analyse with Nanocolor test after filtering the sample at 0,45 m, while
the COD using same method but unfiltered (except the activated sludge).
formaldehyde concentration in the filtered water samples (0,45 m) by colorimetric analyse using a
Merck test. The concentration of formaldehyde was measured in compliance with German Standards
(VDI 3862/2), organic acids (formic acid, acetic acid) with Austrian Standards (NORM EN ISO 103041/2), dust with Austrian Standards (NORM M5861) and organic C with German Standards (VDI
mixed liquor volatile suspended solids (MLVSS) and the settleable matter (SM) in compliance with
German Standard Methods (DIN 38414, DEV).
pH at 40C with a WTW pH340 unit, the dissolved oxygen (DO) with an Oxi197-S unit and the
conductivity (at 40C) with a WTW LF 197-S unit.
All the measurement units were calibrated on a weekly basis. Double measurements on random samples
over a period of several months pointed out an analysis reproducibility of 10%. At the autopsy of the
membranes the modules, which uncovered the individual membranes, were opened. Then the blockage of
the membranes was analyzed chemically, microbiologically and optically.

The described full scale waste water and waste air treatment plant has been in continuous operation
since the beginning of the year 2000 and has clearly proven its practical suitability in this period. Because of
its innovative concept a lot of new aspects were found out, which will be further described generally [Barbu
et al. 2008).
Aerobic, thermophilic biology
At the beginning the biology was started up with a mixture of activated sludge from a communal
waste water treatment plant and compost. Then it was adapted to the higher temperatures (45 60C) and
formaldehyde concentrations in the treatment plant over weeks.
The so selected population, which was dominated by actinomycetes, gram-positive bacteria and
yeast, managed to survive immediately after the start up of the production plant. The direct injection of the
activated sludge suspension into the hot waste air of the fiber dryer (up to 120C) showed no negative
effects on the activated sludge. Most outstanding was the capability of the biocenosis to regulate its living
conditions without need of external chemical dosage. The pH of the activated sludge tank i.e. was strictly
neutral (70,2) although the waste water was quite acid. The constant biological degradation of the
formaldehyde kept its level right beneath 1 mg/l (Table 2) and so on an uncritical level concerning its toxicity.
The COD degradation over the biological cleaning stage of the plant was quite stable at a level of
60%, so that the concentration in the water of the activated sludge tank was in the middle 3000 mg/l. The
degraded organic substances caused only little biomass growth (0,29 g biomass growth/g CODdegradation). Although the plant operated with no sludge recycling the MLVSS in the activated sludge tank
reached 1 2 g/l at a specific waste water flow of 0,35 d-1. The sludge contented of approx. 2/3 biomass and
1/3 dust and wood particles.


Table 2: Control parameters of the waste water treatment plant [Portenkirchner et al., 2004]
CCO [mg/l]
HCHO [mg/l]
N-NH4 [mg/l]
P-PO4 [mg/l]
Conductivity [s/cm]

Waste water

Output Biology

Output Flotation


The input of phosphor over the waste water was sufficient for the support of the biology. The nitrogen
support was dominated by the wash out of ammonia from the waste air. Although this ammonia input varied
a lot over the time, it could sufficiently support the activated sludge and no continuos nutrient dosage was
necessary. As expected before the high water temperatures in the activated sludge tank (mostly over 50C)
prevented a constant nitrification [Grunditz et al. 2001].
The major difficulty of the biological cleaning stage was the bad sedimentation tendency of the
activated sludge [Andreasen et al. 1999]. This and the high bulking and foaming tendencies of the sludge
caused major operation problems, which forced to change the sludge separation from sedimentation to
flotation. Moreover the integrity of the sludge flocs had to be supported with the flocculation chemicals.
Generally aerobic thermophilic activated sludge processes for waste water from wood processing seem to
have a poor sedimentation [Clauss et al. 1999]. This must be kept in mind for the design of such plants.
Another problem was the dynamic and discontinuous foam generation in the activated sludge tank,
but could be solved by dosing anti-foaming agent continuously.
Waste air treatment
The solid and the gaseous pollutants from the fiber dryer were hold back in different parts of the
compact waste air treatment plant.
The cleaning of formaldehyde in two stages (quenche, bio-scrubber) allowed a formaldehyde
reduction of 80% (Table 3). The washed out formaldehyde was then degraded by the aerobic, thermophilic
biology. The stability of this process kept the concentration of this component beneath a critical value. The
other pyrolysis products as formic acid and acetate acid were also reduced from the waste air by a level of
The last waste air cleaning stage was a WESP, which retained 90 % of the emitted dust. As a side
effect the solvation of the washed out dust particles (flue ash from the combustion of bark/wood waste in the
energy plant) increased the salt load in the waste water more than 70%. Moreover the colloidal load in the
water reached a level, which required a chemical precipitation in the pre-cleaning stages of the following
reverse osmosis.
Table 3: Control parameters of the waste air treatment plant [Portenkirchner et al. 2004]
Organic acids
Organic C
Blue haze

Clean air [mg/m] Degradation [%]

Not visible

The fact that a lot of fibrous, sticky and hardly water dissolvable components were washed into the
water system by this plant, increases the risk of equipment blockages. But the operational experience in this
full scale plant proofed that this shortcoming can be handled if this circumstances are considered in the plant
Waste water reverse osmosis
The operation of a reverse osmosis with waste water of such composition went despite of an
optimized pre-cleaning to the technical limits of such equipment. Nevertheless a combination of biological
cleaning and a membrane system had been chosen, because only the reverse osmosis could guarantee a
sufficient water quality for the closure of water cycles.
During the optimization the unstable pre-cleaning stages and the sensitiveness of the reverse
osmosis required a high qualification. After some years of operation automation has been increased and the
waste water process required no extensive supervision anymore.
For the reverse osmosis the quality of the pre-cleaning had overtop significance. Through
optimization clear, lightly yellow and solid free water for feeding the reverse osmosis could be achieved with


the pre-cleaning. With an optimized combination of flocculation and precipitation the COD in the waste water
could be reduced to a level of 1000 mg/l (Table 2). This COD-reduction based mostly on the separation of
colloids with a high water fouling potential for the membrane.
The continuous stabilization of the pH at a level beneath 5,5 avoided iron and manganese fouling on
the membrane despite their very high concentration in the waste water. Due to the fact that the water in the
biological cleaning stage was strictly neutral the pH had to be reduced continuously, which could normally be
done by the use of acid precipitation chemical without an extra dosage of inorganic acids.
As a result of the complex pre-cleaning the reverse osmosis could deliver permeate at a gain of
90%, which fulfilled the water requirements for an open process steam generation system at 12 bar (Table
2). The concentrate could be used as feed up water for the glue preparation. This makes it possible to run
the whole MDF plant waste water free.
Despite all that emphasis on the operation of the pre-cleaning system, blockages of the membranes
still occurred, which made necessary the development of discontinuous cleaning programs with special
chemicals. Using this cleaning operations most of the membrane blockages could be removed. For this
reason the performance of the reverse osmosis deteriorated consequently, which so far limited the lifetime of
the membranes to two years.
In this waste air water treatment plant several complete new process approaches had been
developed at an industrial scale and combined in a very complex way. The years of operation clearly proofed
the pilot plant practical capability.
The unique combination of waste water and waste air cleaning, the combination of biocenoses with a
reverse osmosis and the use of aerobic, thermophile organisms has not only set a new state of the art, but
also offered interesting experience for further research. Moreover the treatment plant concept can be
adapted to similar industrial applications.
The membrane lifetime and its sensibility were so far seen as the major problems in the reverse
osmosis technology in MDF waste water applications. However the technology has proven to deliver suitable
water quality to feed process steam generators and to close the water cycle in the MDF production.
Moreover the design of the pre-treatment and the design of the reverse osmoses itself offer enough potential
to improve membrane lifetime and its reliability. Considering this and taking the ever increasing energy cost
into account reverse osmosis is again a promising alternative to waste water vaporisation technology.

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