Posted: Nov 7, 2012 8:39 PM by Robin O'Day - KPAX News
Updated: Nov 7, 2012 8:42 PM
DARBY - His family started Darby Lumber, he owns a helicopter logging company and he starred in a reality TV show.
But when Smurfit-Stone Container shut down and R and R Conner Aviation owner Ryan Conner had nowhere to send his pulp wood, he was forced to reinvent himself and his helicopter logging business.
Conner, who was featured on the History channel show "Axe Men," is taking wood waste and turning it into a marketable product, "bio logs", which burn hot and clean. Lodge pole, cedar and even cotton wood is hand fed into a grinder, goes through a red pipe into a drying process before its final meltdown in the extruder where it binds together, creating a log that burns super hot and super clean, even if it started out as nature's failure.
Even trees ravaged by pine beetles aren't a problem for Conner.
"No, beetle kill is actually ideal for us because if it sits in the forest too long, it becomes basically no use for any commercial product other than this," Conner said.
His recipe is exact, based on a perfect blend of woods and the perfect cooking temperature. A recipe which could take wood waste out of the forests, creating a Montana made product with a one-way ticket to making mega bucks anywhere.
"I can't shut my mind off at night on how big this could become because I've been around the product long enough now," Conner said. "We've made enough of them and we've actually introduced it to public at a couple of events and the feedback is just amazing and the produce itself, I think it's superior to anything else we're burning right now."
Though Conner says he's still in the research and development phase of this process, the product is sparking interest from organizations who are looking to help people in third world countries.
Nonprofit Wood for Haiti president Gary Funk said Conner's product is just what Haiti is looking for. "I think any third world country that is relying on charcoal like materials to cook food, would find this product to be tremendous."
In the near future, you may be able to pick up a bundle of his logs for camping trips, but the potential of the product reaches far beyond the Big Sky, Funk said.
"It provides us the opportunity to explore a way in which we can create income, because vendors on the street would take this briquette, sell it, they would make income, that money would come back to Montana. This thing could turn into a huge job creator, because you've got 9 million people that need to eat everyday in Haiti, that's just one country, think of it internationally."
It all begins with an idea, even when the industry you grew up in has seen its fair share of changes.
"I think all entrepreneurs always see opportunity, because even when things go completely bad, there's always an opportunity," Conner said.
Other similar products are on the market, like Presto logs, but they use additives which make them unsafe to cook over. Conner hopes to patent his extruder machine, which he says is crucial in making the bio waste logs.
It's an untapped market in the U.S. and local leaders see a bright burning future ahead.
Darby Mayor Rick Scheele said they might as well take advantage of an available resource. "Any light industry that we can put down here, is going to be a boost to our economy."