Sustainability

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Richlite’s EcoBind™ NAUF Resin Formula

There is No Added Urea Formaldhyde in our resin. Richlite uses phenolic resin in its manufacturing process to achieve unsurpassed quality in its finished product and minimize the company’s energy consumption. In addition to reduced energy consumption, the phenolic resin we utilize has the EcoBind™ designation due to the   fact it is one of the lowest VOC emitters existing on the resin market to date.

Richlite is composed of approximately 65% FSC®-certified or recycled paper content and 35% phenolic resin. The same type of resin has been used in the manufacturing process for more than 50 years due to its incomparable strength and stability that to date can’t be achieved by water-based, cashew or any other available resins. See our water based versus solvent based analysis. Alternative resins require excessively higher amounts of energy to produce the material, while all resin waste used during the Richlite manufacturing process is recaptured and used as fuel during the drying stage. The process, called WE™ (Waste-to-Energy) Technology, is basically a closed-loop energy system and minimizes Richlite’s natural gas usage by 83%.

Richlite uses both ethanol and methanol as a solvent in its resin system. We chose to use a mixture of ethanol and methanol due to the low amount of energy required to burn off the emissions during the saturation process.  As part of our effort to be as transparent as possible, please find our resin formula below. Remember, this is the phenolic resin as a raw material. After we process the resin through our WE™ Technology system the only remaining item in our product are phenolic solids. The remainder is converted into energy during our closed-loop energy system.

Resin: Water Based vs. Solvent Based

Richlite has extensively researched every available resin to determine which solution produces the absolute highest quality material while having the lowest impact on the environment. The company’s paper and methanol/ethanol-based materials are unquestionably the best performing surfaces in the paper-composite class while Richlite’s Waste-to-Energy manufacturing process upholds the company’s strict commitment to the environment. This section compares Richlite’s process versus water-based alternative processes. Click on diagram to expand.

Water based resin: it sounds like a great environmental story, however, it is nothing but a catchy phrase. The first question you should ask yourself is: what holds the paper together? Water? Obviously not. What gets left out of the “water based resin” conversation is the entire process. Richlite’s engineers have extensively studied the entire process for years. In fact, Richlite has been manufacturing the material since 1943. Water base is simply a term that describes the diluting agent in the resin. Richlite chooses to use a methanol/ethanol mix to dilute its resin. Why not water since it’s less costly (practically free compared to methanol/ethanol) and on the surface sounds more environmentally friendly?

Over nearly seven decades in business, Richlite customers have come to depend on quality. Richlite materials were originally used as an industrial product before the architectural community discovered it so durability has been a priority since day one. From a pure quality standpoint – methanol/ethanol-based resin delivers better quality and a more consistent product.

The main issue with water-based resin pertaining to quality and also sustainability is the fact it is made with water. Water is not intended to burn. In order to produce paper-composite surfaces, the water or methanol must be burned off. Methanol and ethanol are designed for this and, therefore, instantly burn off. Water requires significant amounts of energy to burn off and there is never a guarantee that all water will be removed from the product, which can challenge quality.

Thin plastic laminate companies using a melamine surface use water-based resin on their backer sheets but probably can do so with success because it is only a couple of layers of paper. When you get beyond a few layers of paper, your resin system becomes vital to the integrity of the panel. A one-inch sheet of Richlite incorporates more than 200 layers of paper.

Richlite in recent years introduced its innovative WE Technology manufacturing process with three main components: a resin system, a vertical drying tower, and a catalytic converter.  See WE Technology diagram for details of operation.

The manufacturing design essentially creates a closed-loop energy system. Waste from the methanol is heated through a catalytic converter to dry the material, something that would virtually be impossible with water-based solvents since water holds no energy or BTUs. As an added benefit, the catalytic converter is superior in destroying VOCs. When methanol/ethanol and other VOCs run through a catalytic converter a significant increase in temperature is automatically achieved to assist with the drying process.

Energy consumption is greatly reduced through WE technology due to superior airflow controls. The inclusion of a vertical drying tower minimizes required airflow during the drying process by four-and-a-half times. The Richlite process operates at about 3,500 DCFMs, whereas a horizontal drying process standard among competitors requires about 15,000 DCFMs. Because the airflow is much greater, competitors must create a greater amount of heat and consume more energy to maintain the airflow necessary to dry the product. Even without WE Technology, Richlite’s vertical tower alone only uses one small gas motor compared to the equivalent of four large gas motors on a horizontal dryer. WE Technology helped Richlite reduce its natural gas consumption by more than 80% in its first year of operation.

Richlite’s studies conclude that if the company switched to a water-based resin, used a horizontal dryer, and moved to a RTO instead of catalytic converter, Richlite would end up emitting 5.5 times the amount of CO2 over its current rate. The company’s minimal emissions qualify Richlite as a clean air manufacturer in Washington State.

The other form of energy we utilize is electricity, mainly within our office facilities. In the Pacific Northwest, we are fortunate to have a majority (nearly 90%) of our electricity derived from hydro. In addition, not only do we receive some of our electricty from wind power, Richlite Company was the first corporation in Tacoma to sign up for Tacoma Power’s Evergreen Options program in 2001.

Supporting data for the study is based both off of Richlite’s newer WE Technology system and an older system the company has on site. Richlite also collected data from operating plants with similar saturating machines, and gathered data from local gas and utility providers who supply competitors.

WE™ (Waste-to-Energy) Technology

The exclusive WE™ design of Richlite’s saturation equipment captures energy from the manufacturing process and recycles it back into the heating system as energy. The vertical dryer further improves Richlite’s carbon footprint by reducing fuel consumption by 83%. Traditional RTO horizontal saturating lines emit four to five times the amount of CO2 as Richlite’s WE system. During the process, 99.9% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are captured and destroyed while reducing Richlite’s natural gas consumption by more than 80%.

Legend

  • Step 1

    The Vertical Drying Tower is heated to the required temperature, 600°F

  • Step 2

    Exhaust from the drying tower is captured and cooled to 230°F by ambient air

  • Step 3

    The cooled exhaust enters the heat exchanger at 230°F and is heated to 600°F as it passes 900°F air (see step 5)

  • Step 4

    A catalytic bed destroys 99.99% of VOC’s which generates clean 900°F air

  • Step 5

    Part of the 900°F air is sent back through the heat exchanger, cooling it to 400°F

  • Step 6

    The remaining 900°F clean air is captured and returned to the drying tower – bypassing the heat exchanger

  • Step 7

    Before exiting to the atmosphere, 30% of the 400°F air is directed back to the drying tower

  • Step 8

    Combining the 900°F air with the 400°F air equalizes to 600°F, which is recycled into the drying tower, eliminating the need for an additional heat source and creating self-sustaining energy

  • Module A

    Raw Paper

  • Module B

    Resin Tank

  • Module C

    Squeeze Rolls

  • Module D

    Saturated Paper Rewind

FSC® Certified Paper

Is it really paper?

Yes it is. It starts out as pulp, is turned into paper and is transformed into a dense, durable, attractive material that can be tooled like wood and used for literally any commercial or residential surface or design accents from sink basins to exterior wall cladding. Richlite uses a highly specialized paper in its manufacturing process in order to achieve a level of density and durability that no one has been able to replicate.

Richlite uses a rather thin paper – approximately 55 lb. paper – due to its positive    effect on the overall quality and density of  its product. The thinner the paper, the more evenly the resin can flow between and through the sheets, allowing for more fibrous cross-linking to occur. The only advantage to using a thicker paper is you can gain more throughput and lower your cost, however, we have found this to be deterimental to product performance. By specifying a precise thickness and quality of paper, Richlite has achieved a level of density, flatness and reliability that is unequalled in the paper-composite surface market.

Richlite paper is colored during the paper making process which makes the color consistent throughout the manufacturing process. The other option is to color the paper while you are saturating the paper, however, that leads to inconsistent color and can cause performance issues with the resin. Papers are made either with 50% recycled cardboard or FSC certified materials composed of paper derived from Forest Stewardship Council™ certified sources. FSC is a third party global regulating body with stringent standards for responsibly managing and harvesting forests. The FSC-certified paper Richlite currently sources uses pulp from managed forests in Brazil and Sweden. The pulp is derived from rapidly renewable Eucalyptus trees that can be re-harvested every three to seven years.

Richlite’s products are non-off-gassing, are GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certified®, and meet the criteria for GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certification. The GREENGUARD Certification program recognizes interior building materials and products that meet the most stringent chemical emissions standards deemed safe and appropriate for use in residential and commercial buildings, including educational (daycare and K-12) environments.

GEI is an industry-independent, non-profit organization that oversees the GREENGUARD Certification Program. As an ANSI Authorized Standards Developer, GEI establishes acceptable indoor air standards for indoor products, environments, and buildings. GEI’s mission is to improve public health and quality of life through programs that improve indoor air.

LEED® Information

The LEED green building certification program is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of green buildings.

Richlite products contribute toward satisfying the following Credits under LEED:

MR Credit 3: Materials Reuse

Durability is a primary attribute of Richlite. Richlite will last a lifetime – whether it stays in its original installation or is re-fabricated into another project. Richlite can be easily refinished to its original appearance.

MR Credit 4: Recycled Content

Richlite r50 contains 50% post-consumer waste fibers from old corrugated cardboard.

Richlite r100 and Grays Harbor contain 100% post-consumer waste fibers and are FSC® Certified 100% Recycled.

MR Credit 5: Regional Materials

Richlite products are manufactured in Tacoma, Washington. Richilte’s r50 and r100 paper suppliers and Richlite’s resin supplier are located within 200 miles of the manufacturing plant.

MR Credit 6: Rapidly Renewable Materials

Richlite’s Northwest Collection colors Black Diamond, Yellow Island, Green Mountain, Chocolate Glacier, Blue Canyon, Browns Point, Redstone are composed of 30% Eucalyptus fibers. Richlite RainShadow colors Midnight Iron, Boulder Bronze, and Buckhorn Brown also contain 30% Eucalyptus fibers. These products can be applied to both MR Credit 6 (rapidly renewable materials) and MR Credit 7 (certified wood).

MR Credit 7: Certified Wood

Use a Richlite FSC-Certified product and apply it to two points, not just one. Richlite’s Northwest Collection colors Black Diamond, Yellow Island, Green Mountain, Chocolate Glacier, Blue Canyon, Browns Point, and Redstone are FSC Mixed 90% products; r100 is FSC-Certified 100% Recycled; Slate and Baguette are FSC Mixed Credit materials. Richlite Rainshadow colors Midnight Iron, Boulder Bronze and Buckhorn Brown are all FSC Mixed 90% products.

IEQ Credit 4.4:Low-Emitting Materials: Composite Wood & Agrifiber Products

Richlite contains no urea formaldehyde. In addition, all Richlite Products are GREENGUARD Certified for Children and Schools – the highest rating offered by GREENGUARD. Also note that 100% of the VOC’s created during manufacturing are destroyed.

For more information on how Richlite Products can be applied toward LEED points, please Find Richlite.

Download Richlite LEED Credit Information.

LEED and related logo is a trademark owned by US Green Building Council and is used with permission.  UK Green Building Council logo is a trademark owned by UK Green Building Council.

Carbon Footprint

Richlite began tracking emissions in 2005 using the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol), which was developed through a partnership between the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.  Richlite set a 5-year goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 30%. By 2005 we exceeded our goal with a total 32% decrease of CO2 emissions.

As part of Richlite’s commitment to sustainability, we had a third party agency conduct a full Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and publish an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). The analysis shown here was performed in accordance with the Green Standard Environmental Product Declaration System Product Category Rule for Countertops, v3. The analysis was performed by the Institute of Environmental Research and Education (IERE) www.iere.org. For more information on The Green Standard, visit www.thegreenstandard.org.