There are over 37 million tons of wood waste from construction and demolition lying in landfills across America, and every day, the lumber industry adds to this number. Andrew Gillies and his company, Urban Machine, are on a mission to protect our forests and ease the pressure on felling virgin timber by recycling this wood waste. The unique solution uses robots and clean energy to recycle wood waste into high-volume, locally sourced, premium lumber products. A solution that could spawn a $18 billion green industry annually.   

Fun Fact: Recycling lumber waste has a carbon footprint 13 times lower than using virgin lumber!

About Andrew

Andrew is an engineer, entrepreneur, and team builder with a Ph.D. in biomechanical engineering from UC Berkeley. Before Urban Machine, he co-founded Dash Robotics, where he developed and shipped hundreds of thousands of consumer robots. Andrew has also worked on robotics for agriculture, solar power, and solar panel cleaning. As the Co-Founder and CTO at Urban Machine, Andrew is on a mission to convert the 37 million tons of wood waste from construction and demolition into high-volume, locally sourced, premium lumber products valued at $18 billion annually.

Key highlights

  • 10:59 – 14:46 – How is recycling lumber waste a clear win for the planet? According to an EPA study, 37 million tonnes of waste lumber is directed to landfills annually. While other high-volume construction waste materials like steel and concrete have mature recycling workflows, lumber waste is left to decompose to mulch, which is then burnt. Wood is a dirty fuel, and the CO2 emissions from burning the wood waste are much higher than that of burning a cleaner fuel like natural gas. While burning the waste is used to generate electricity, the process is not cost-effective at scale. By recycling the wood waste, we are taking a significant amount of CO2 emissions off the table and are protecting our forests by mitigating the deforestation challenge—a double win for our planet.
  • 16:49 – 18:58 – The challenges in recycling wood waste: The biggest challenge in recycling wood waste is removing the metal fasteners, nails, screws, and staples embedded in the wood. Next, the value of recycled timber is linked to the integrity and length of the wood fiber. To keep the fiber intact, the nails and screws must be removed by hand, which makes scaling the process unviable from a cost standpoint. Urban Machine’s innovative solution addresses these challenges and provides a sustainable and scalable framework.
  • 21:14 – 22:27 – The business model at Urban Machine: Andrew explains that the input is wood waste provided free of charge by their partners in the lumber industry, and lumber waste is treated with a proprietary robotic process that removes the embedded metal. The output is clean lumber that can be sold to the timber product industry. Their current customers are in the furniture and architectural installation business, including roofing and facades. Once the company scales its metal removal process, it will approach larger consumers of lumber, like automated lumber treatment plants.
  • 25:57 – 28:21 – Recycling waste lumber with robots: At a high level, the recycling machine is a long tunnel with 3-D scanners and robotic arms. The scanner gives a 360-degree view of the lumber piece to identify all the metal pieces embedded in the lumber. This data is fed into the perception stack that programs the robotic arms to remove the metal pieces. The treated product is passed through a highly sensitive metal detector that can catch even a single leg of a staple. The final product is then ready for sale to the clients.