Going with the Grain: ABTM Wood Solutions’ wood reclamation venture

Where some view Saskatchewan’s century-old grain elevators as an eyesore, ABMT Wood Solutions sees an opportunity. Since the spring of 2022, company founder Alvin Herman and his team have endeavoured to salvage wood from grain elevators throughout the province in a bid to repurpose the materials and promote a greener, circular industry.

I’m fairly allergic to burning these things,” Herman told CTV News. “There’s a tremendous amount of timber in place, and it seems like such a waste.”

It’s a mission that comes late in Herman’s career. After decades of farming, the 75-year-old retiree sought a new endeavour to keep him busy.

Alvin and I had worked together for a number of years, and after he retired, he was looking for a project,” recalls Bradie Ulvick, a long-time colleague and secretary-treasurer with ABMT Wood Solutions. “It all started during COVID when I wasn’t travelling for my job anymore and was also looking for something to do. Alvin and I started talking about making a business out of taking these old buildings down, and unbeknownst to me, he already owned a grain elevator in Milden that he thought would be a good start.”

It was an ideal first project, Ulvick recalls. The 111-year-old grain elevator had lived long beyond its useful life and, according to Herman, posed several safety hazards for community residents. So, in April 2022, Herman, Ulvick, and a modest crew began dismantling their first project under the new ABMT Wood Solutions name.

We finished up that elevator in Milden around October, and the company just kind of snowballed from there,” he adds.

Going with the grain

Since wrapping up work at the 111-year-old elevator in Milden, the ABMT Wood Solutions crew has moved on to two more grain elevator projects in Kenaston, just an hour’s drive south of Saskatoon. With momentum behind them, says Ulvick, the goal is to provide farmers with an eco-friendly and cost-effective option for taking down grain elevators that are otherwise collecting dust and accruing costs.

Maintaining these grain elevators takes money, so what we’re trying to do is provide owners of old wooden buildings an alternative way of getting rid of them besides just knocking them down and burning them,” Ulvick explains.

More than that, ABMT Wood Solutions’ work is focused on salvaging materials (e.g., old-growth wood) from the deconstructed towers and reusing them to make everything from decorative furniture to floors, and affordable housing materials.

It’s heritage wood,” Herman told CBC. “It’s never going to happen again; you’re not going to find this wood anywhere else in the world. If people want to preserve some of the history, this is kind of the last ditch effort to preserve the old sentinels that dotted Saskatchewan.”

I’m hoping that our process allows people to buy a piece or own a piece of Saskatchewan’s heritage,” he added.

Salvaged wood from Herman’s elevator in Milden has already been used as flooring at a healing lodge in Driftpile Cree Nation, while siding was used on a nearby home.

Looking ahead, the company is exploring opportunities to repurpose the elevator’s mechanically-laminated panels into walls for sustainable housing for low-income families within Saskatchewan.

We’re learning quite a bit about how much of this wood and all the metal components can be reclaimed and reused,” says Ulvick. “None of the wood is being burned; even the rotten stuff will be reprocessed and turned into a usable product.

A greener approach

Sustainability is the founding philosophy for ABMT Wood Solutions. It helps that reclaimed timber from older wooden buildings qualifies for Ottawa’s platinum carbon credits, making them ideal for use in net-zero homes.

Being able to reclaim that carbon and repurpose this wood makes greener construction possible,” notes Ulvick. “There are also benefits in the fact that we’re providing repurposed materials to builders, which means they don’t have to cut down more trees.

Going up

With work wrapping up in Kanaston, ABMT Wood Solutions is already in talks to dismantle more rural grain elevators across Saskatchewan. Meanwhile, the company is in the process of acquiring a 10-acre property to keep its reclaimed wood and repurpose it into new materials and products.

Over time, says Ulvick, the company hopes to continue building on both its team and dismantling approaches to take ABMT Wood Solutions to the next level: “Alvin, being the inventor he is, is already conceptualizing several large-scale ideas for our takedown and processing approach that will be proprietary down the road.

If Herman was looking for a project to keep him busy, he found it. And with requests coming in from across the Province, ABMT Wood Solutions’ profile is on the rise.

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