WILLOWS, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#circulareconomy–CalFibre announced today they are seeking $75M funding to acquire and reopen a factory to produce 300K ton/year tree-free boards.

A lifelong dream come true

It took California rice farmer Jerry Uhland 20 years, 8 months, and 17 days to raise $325 million to achieve his mission to convert a costly source of air pollution into a valuable bio-product. The pollutant? Rice straw, a residue of rice farming, historically burned after each harvest. The product? Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), a common construction material conventionally made of wood, and used for a variety of interior purposes like cabinets, doors, floors, and molding.

It took so long to convince funders to support his first-of-its-kind rice straw board plant because the raw material supply, the manufacturing plan, and the markets all had to be perfect. “I had 20-year contracts with fellow farmers and balers for 400,000 tons of rice straw, a full guarantee from the equipment-maker to make my technology work at scale, and a 20-year purchase contract for 100% of the production from the plant,” explains Uhland.

Construction was completed on the plant in 2020, and beginning in early 2021, hundreds of truckloads of formaldehyde-free and tree-free 100% rice straw fiber boards started reaching the marketplace. Uhland again, “the buyers loved getting a product with our substantial green credentials, and at the same quality and price as their everyday wood-based boards.”

Hard luck all around

So what went wrong? According to Uhland, first it was a ~$100 million “laundry list of bad luck.” There were the major construction costs over-runs from an over-promising and under-delivering contractor. The Federal Aviation Administration demanded the company to lower the height and move one of their major installations, a dryer tower. Then came Covid shutdowns, and if that wasn’t enough, a dry lightning storm caused a fire and burned 50,000 tons of stored straw. After construction completed, the final financial blow came when a small but critical part of the guaranteed equipment line didn’t work properly, causing the plant to only reach 40% of the designed manufacturing capacity.

“The creditors carried us through the hard times during the challenges of the construction phase with additional investments, but the expense of a long shutdown to solve that one process issue exceeded what they were willing to invest. They were then forced to choose bankruptcy and asset liquidation,” according to Uhland.

CalFibre to the Rescue

Jerry Uhland joined forces with several industry allies to form CalFibre LLC. CalFibre is currently seeking investors for a capital raise of $75 million to acquire, repair, restart, and operate the distressed asset. There have been numerous bids on the asset, according to Uhland, but none of the potential buyers have committed to restart the plant using local crop residues as the raw material, and the intention of some is to disassemble the mill and ship out the pieces.

Uhland again, “CalFibre has all the elements for success in hand: 150,000 tons of rice straw at the plant site and 400,000 tons per year of ongoing straw contracts; a guaranteed equipment fix; a full turnaround team from line workers to the CEO; unwavering support of the local community, and buyers lined up for our MDF products. Once CalFibre is up and running, we have a ready-made solution for the rest of the world to save trees, to reduce greenhouse gas, to reduce harmful construction chemicals, and to demonstrate the potential of the bio economy and circular economy.” More information may be found at calfibre.com.


CalFibre LLC

Jerry Uhland, Co-Founder