The Green Thumb
Necessity being the mother of invention, it was inevitable that someone somewhere would invent a device that would help solve the problem of on-site gypsum board waste. That someone took the form of a retired contractor from Minnesota.
In the early ’80s, he assembled a Rube Goldberg-like contraption made of 16-Penny nails, a cedar post and a small motor. Thus was born the idea for a gypsum-grinding machine. Though crude, it followed the time-honored axiom of architecture, “form follows function.” When the motor rotated the nail-studded cedar post, the scrap gypsum board fed into it was readily torn asunder.
Unfortunately, like many inventors, he was not an astute businessman. Seeking financial backing after filing a U.S. design patent for protection of his brainchild, the inventor naively signed over his ownership rights to several financiers. As time passed, more than one person owned the rights to multiple versions/designs of the same machine.
By the end of 1988, a refined version of the inventor’s gypsum-grinding machine—first featuring a 5-horsepower electric motor, and then an 18-horsepower gas-propane engine—came to the market in Texas where he had relocated. Because of the many changes and modifications to the machine, the inventor’s original design patent became ineffective and he lost all rights to the concept of a gypsum-board grinding machine. This earlier model of the machine sold well worldwide for a few months, despite the fact that it had several shortcomings:
• The intake mouth was only 24 inches wide.
• The machine weighed more than 500 pounds, which made it difficult to handle, load, unload and required delivery to job sites.
When the student is ready, the teacher will appearRecognizing the potential for the overall idea and the machine, along came Jerry Petermann. From 1988 through 1990, Petermann personally launched a worldwide- and nationwide-media campaign that included local TV stations, CNN and a feature in INC magazine for an earlier version of the machine. Despite the media and industry recognition and praise, mismanagement caused the company to dissolve in 1991. Petermann was left high and dry but had not given up on the idea of an on-site gypsum-board grinding machine. The market had responded favorably to the idea but the design left much room for improvement. There were three design modifications needed that were readily apparent:
• Gypsum scrap: up to 36 inches wide needed to be accepted into the machine’s feeder.
• At 18 horsepower, the machine was underpowered; it needed more strength.
• A towed trailer version was needed for mobile job site applications.
In the mid-’90s, Petermann called upon the machine/concept’s original inventor to, in effect, “build a better mousetrap.” This proved fruitless. The inventor kept tinkering away and deviating from the basic concept. He decided to close shop and go for it alone. In early 2001, Petermann, a successful inventor in his own right, began some tinkering of his own. He determined that applied physics, in the form of a brute force of more than 40,000 pounds/SI applied to the leading edge of the gypsum board scrap, would completely disintegrate the scrap gypsum to a fine powder. As well, the overall width of scrap that could be fed into the machine was increased to 49 inches (a typical gypsum board panel is 48 inches wide). Currently, Petermann is actively pursuing patent protection for his novel design.
Thus was born the Gyp Monster. At about 1,500-pounds gross weight, the Gyp Monster is mobile-mounted on a DOT frame with 15-inch tires and good ground clearance. At only 5 feet wide by 6 feet long, it tows easily behind any standard pick-up truck and is approved for highway use. The machine is only 40 inches overall in height and utilizes a rear-feed system for easy use at the job site. The pulverized scrap gypsum board, now in fine powder form, can be exhausted one of two ways:
• Directly to the ground soil below
• Side or rear (depending on the feeder width size) via an auger
Gyp Monster’s upgraded power plant features a two-cylinder 20- or 25-horsepower gas engine. In compliance with OSHA regulations, it features an emergency shut-off, safety shrouding over moving parts and a narrow feeder intake mouth to keep hands out of where they do not belong.
Gyp Monster is intended for use in the gypsum board scrap market generated from new construction—this is no small thing. As a percentage of the total square foot area of gypsum wallboard produced each year, as much as 10 percent is considered scrap destined for a dumpsite or on-site disintegration (such as the machine provides). The EPA prefers the latter method, which significantly reduces waste gypsum board flowing into the construction waste stream. Gyp Monster is not intended for use in the demolition industry and the company will not knowingly sell Gyp Monster to a demolition contractor. Aged gypsum board from demolition, renovations, etc., is very often laden with lead paint. Lead-paint-laden scrap gypsum board, if reduced to powder and dust by the Gyp Monster, would create a toxic environment of airborne lead particles that is breathable and could be widely dispersed. Not only is this an unacceptable practice and an extremely dangerous scenario, it is also illegal.
Let’s not exhaust the landfillsPast practice was to simply bury scrap gypsum in landfills or cut and stack it within hollow spaces such as chase walls within the building itself (this is a dubious practice that is out of favor). Studies have found that normally inert gypsum board scrap—when buried in the non-air environment of a landfill is transformed into an environmental nightmare. By combining with anaerobic (non-air breathing) bacteria, ground water and cellulose, the gypsum scrap produces hydrogen sulfide gas. Hydrogen sulfide, in solid form, can contaminate aquifers supplying drinking water to communities nationwide.
It destroys beneficial bacteria in the landfill and is foul smelling (like rotten eggs). For these reasons, many states have banned gypsum scrap from their landfills.
Gypsum board pulverized by the Gyp Monster actually provides a fertilizer for the soil on the job site that effectively breaks up clays and enhances the available water supply for future landscaping. The main element of gypsum board is calcium sulfate. When ground to powder and applied to clay-based soil at a rate of 5 to 20 tons per acre, food crop yields increase dramatically due to the increased availability of both water and oxygen. Another use found for pulverized gypsum board is in the fireproofing and concrete markets.
When tinted and applied to cedar shingles, the shingles retain their aesthetic appeal while substantially increasing the fire resistance of the shingles. Gypsum powder mixed with Portland cement and water, and then spay-applied to the wood frame of a house (prior to applying the wall coverings) dramatically reduces the flame-spread through the walls of the house in the event of a fire. Pulverized gypsum powder can even replace sand and gravel as an aggregate for producing lightweight concrete. Not least, one’s pet or farm animal will reap the rewards of pulverized gypsum board scrap as produced by the Gyp Monster. A Texas A&M study revealed that gypsum powder desiccates (dries up) the bodies of fleas and ticks without harming the host animal.
Perhaps most important to the construction industry itself, there are cost-effective reasons for using the Gyp Monster to pulverize scrap gypsum board on-site. The recent and on-going ban of scrap gypsum board in landfills requires costly transport charges and tipping fees. On-site disposal eliminates these burdensome costs entirely. Many larger and some smaller landfills have recycling programs in-place and welcome scrap gypsum board, solid or powder, with open arms. They can re-sell gypsum powder as a soil fertilizer to gardeners, landscapers and nurseries to earn significant supplemental income.
Re-claimed gypsum has a potentially enormous market that is just now being fully realized. The hard work of creative and inventive people, such as Petermann, have made this realization possible. For Jerry, it’s been a long haul but he has the satisfaction of seeing Gyp Monster become the success he always knew it could be if properly nurtured. As the saying goes, “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.” It appears that for Petermann, his Gyp Monster is poised to be the first across the finish line in the brave new world of on-site gypsum reclamation. Check out the Gyp Monster Web site at http://www.gypmonster.com.