From Wine Barrels to Wood Floors FPL technology brings small business idea to life

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FPL’s John Hunt (left) and Joe Triglia (right) of Jubilee Flooring examine straightened wine barrel staves.

It’s often said that good things are worth waiting for.  Like wine aged in oak barrels or a revolutionary idea. Or perhaps a unique partnership that creatively combines the two, bringing one entrepreneur’s dream to reality.

Joe Triglia, owner of Jubilee Flooring in Long Island, N.Y., has spent years working out a way to turn discarded wine barrels into wood flooring.  Now, with help from the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), his vision is turning into a promising business venture.

In the United States, most wine barrels are made of white oak and their useful life in the wine industry ranges from one to five years, depending on the preference of the vintner. With large vineyards in Napa Valley using as many as 100,000 barrels per year, discarded barrels represent a significant source of wood. Triglia recognized this source, and thought there was an opportunity to reuse the barrels for something more valuable than their common fate: being cut in half and sold as garden planters.

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The straightened staves are milled into ¾” tongue-and-groove flooring.

“When barrels are made, coopers hand-scrape the insides to release tannins from the wood,” explains Triglia. “I thought these markings, along with the patina formed during the fermentation process, created a unique and appealing look for wood flooring.”

The wood was beautiful, but straightening the curved staves so they could be milled into ¾-inch tongue-and-groove flooring presented a major hurdle.

Initially, Triglia was unable to find anyone in the United States who could help him address the straightening issue. He worked with a partner in China, but the process took 30 days and was energy intensive. “It didn’t make sense business-wise, so I had to keep looking,” said Triglia. “That’s when I found John’s paper.”

While combing the internet for other solutions for straightening wood, Triglia came across a research paper authored by FPL engineer John Hunt. The paper described using a microwave drying process to straighten lumber.

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Hunt and Triglia inspect staves just removed from the microwave dryer as Jubliee employee Richard Finnegan loads the next batch.

“It was the answer I was looking for,” Triglia said. “I had an idea and John had a working machine that did just what I needed it to do. It seemed that if we combined my business idea with FPL’s research we would end up with a product that affects entire industries.”

Triglia came to FPL where he and Hunt experimented with the pilot-scale equipment, and the results were promising. The microwave drying process saved more than 50 percent of the energy used in Triglia’s previous attempt, and even better, it was fast. Hunt’s machine was able to straighten a barrel’s worth of staves, which yields 12 square feet of flooring, in just 10 minutes.

Using FPL’s equipment helped Triglia figure out what is needed to move on to commercial-scale flooring production.  Hunt has a long history of working with the microwave drying equipment, and was pleased to see it used so successfully.

“This partnership is a perfect example of what is possible when government and industry work together,” says Hunt. “We were able to use research results for a commercial application, turn a low-value waste material into a high-value product, and help advance a small business.”

The finished product: flooring made from repurposed oak wine barrels.

The finished product: flooring made from repurposed oak wine barrels.

Triglia has patented his method for transforming wooden staves into flooring or paneling, and is currently developing a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Hunt to continue their partnership.

Hunt explains that this project has built a solid foundation for further research and will “serve as a springboard for future applications.”

Triglia agrees, and is looking forward to future work with FPL now that he’s seen first-hand what a government research facility can do to aid small businesses.

“It’s so encouraging that an entrepreneur has a place to go that can help turn their ideas into reality,” Triglia says.  “Oftentimes you can dream something up but don’t have the technical expertise to make it happen, and you have to make every penny count. Coming to FPL was like a revelation – this place had exactly what I needed to move my business forward.”

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By Rebecca M. Wallace, FPL Public Affairs Specialist