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It’s a Brick House

Doswell company recycles sawdust to make ecologically friendly heat source

April 2024

Wood fiber is fed into a mold, where a half-million pounds of pressure compresses the fiber into brick-shaped products. (Photos by Gregg MacDonald)

by Audrey T. Hingley, Contributing Writer

Peter Moliterno, an agricultural engineer, founded Liberty Bricks 15 years ago.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2023 Residential Energy Consumption Survey, Americans primarily use electricity to heat their homes.

While heating choices may vary by region and climate, many Virginians also have woodstoves or fireplaces that supplement their primary heat sources.

Enter Liberty Bricks, a Doswell, Va.-based business that manufactures and sells a firewood alternative commonly called wood bricks. They are located in a small industrial park that Rappahannock Electric Cooperative helped build the infrastructure for, some 30 years ago.

Liberty Bricks are made from kiln-dried, bark-free oak and poplar wood chips and sawdust that founder Peter Moliterno collectively calls “wood fiber.”

Wood fiber is fed into a mold, where a half-million pounds of pressure compresses the fiber into brick-shaped products, held together by natural resins and the rejoined fibers in the wood. No glue or binders are added.

“We’re just taking wood, putting it under pressure and compacting it, making it easier to burn,” Moliterno says.

The bricks can be used alone or combined with traditional firewood. They are made with recycled wood waste that might otherwise have gone to a landfill.

“We have the driest bricks on the market, so we don’t think of [similar companies] as competitors,” he says.

Moliterno, an agricultural engineer, founded Liberty Bricks 15 years ago in Petersburg before relocating to Doswell.

Interested in energy, fuel and agriculture, he worked with pellet mills before coming across this process.

David Roehl, who once worked at a hardwood trim and molding facility, joined the business as a partner eight years ago.

“Wood pellet mills cost millions to set up; this is small scale — it is a case of finding a need and filling it,” Moliterno explains. “I knew there was a market for it.”

Moliterno says a typical customer hears about Liberty Bricks “when they run out of local firewood, or get it late in the season and it has so much moisture they can’t burn it,” noting that 90% of the company’s customers use bricks exclusively once they try them.

Bricks can be used in an open fireplace, but primary customers are woodstove and fireplace insert users. He adds, “Firewood users are some of our best customers — it is real work producing [cutting, stacking, splitting] firewood.”

Weaber Lumber, one of the nation’s leading hardwood manufacturers, is adjacent to Liberty Bricks and provides them with raw materials.

“We work outside under a shed roof and Weaber is our fiber supplier — we call it fiber — since you can use wood chips, shavings or sawdust to make a brick,” Moliterno says.

Sold by weight, the bricks require less storage space than cordwood, have no bugs and are easy to handle. They create less ash, and the low moisture means that creosote buildup is significantly less than standard wood.

There is a learning curve to using bricks: They ignite easily if they are stacked in a little teepee around a few wads of newspaper, but too many bricks loosely packed can make stoves too hot and cause damage, Moliterno says. “The most common problem is people unfamiliar with bricks can stuff the stove and melt it by over-fueling it. Normal firewood won’t burn that hot,” he says.

For more information, visit libertybricks.com.