Fueling the forests. Part two of a project check up

More and more companies are looking at using northwest B.C.’s abundant fibre supply in new, non-traditional ways such as pellets and bio-fuel instead of lumber and pulp.

While there are numerous companies eyeing up the northwest and simply kicking the tires, some players are further along.

  • Mar. 1, 2011 12:00 p.m.

More and more companies are looking at using northwest B.C.’s abundant fibre supply in new, non-traditional ways such as pellets and bio-fuel instead of lumber and pulp.

While there are numerous companies eyeing up the northwest and simply kicking the tires, some players are further along.

One company, Pacific BioEnergy Corporation, has spent money establishing a  beachhead in the region by purchasing the closed Kitwanga Lumber Company mill in Kitwanga in the fall of 2009. With the mill comes a forest licence, giving the company an asset it can immediately use.

“One of our focuses over the last period of time was to put a business plan together to restart that sawmill,” said Brad Bennett, Pacific BioEnergy vice president of operations in a recent interview.

With one pellet plant operating in Prince George and growing interest in the product, he said the company is putting plans together for a white wood pellet facility in Kitwanga. 

Bennett said the company has been working on a securing a site location in Kitwanga, has done some preliminary environmental work in area, has spoken to potential customers, and is sorting out the logistics of transporting the product to  either the Kitimat or Prince Rupert ports for export.

“Our immediate focus has been on to secure a site, to secure a customer for the product, and more so to restart the sawmill,” he said.

Bennett couldn’t give a timeline for the sawmill or the pellet plant and said it would make announcements when things are more concrete. 

“We’re definitely pretty focused on making that investment happen, and we’re optimistic that we will, or we wouldn’t be spending the time and money that we are,” he said.

Another project in the development stages is the construction of an engineered wood plant. Engineered wood is made by compressing fibre and glue. Joists and beams top the kind of products an engineered wood plant can provide.

StrongWood Technologies, whose technology boasts using less wood, less energy and less glue than other engineered wood methods, has Terrace as one of four communities on its shortlist of plant locations. Other possible locations are Powell River, Port Alberni or Ladysmith.

This plant would cost roughly $150 million, and would employ around 200 people.

But StrongWood has yet to come up with that type of capital and is relying on a $3 million prototype to prove the viability of its technology in order to attract investors.

StrongWood does, however, have four industrial partners to help with the pilot plant: veneer manufacturer Raute Canada, high tech scanning equipment firm Microtec, Western Forest Products, and 100 Mile House-based oriented strand board (OSB) manufacturer Ainsworth Engineered. 

“All these companies are very helpful,”  said StrongWood Technologies’ Dave Parker, explaining that some are donating services and a building, and some are donating money. 

Equipment for the pilot plant that can’t be readily purchased is being constructed at a Western Forest Products mill in Chemainus on Vancouver Island.

Parker anticipates that the equipment will be ready in two to four months and the pilot plant at Chemainus will start soon after. 

StrongWood needs to do an update of its $150 million estimate for the big plant and Parker expects to begin raising money starting this summer.

While the financiers would ultimately select the location, Parker said Terrace is still in the running for a possible plant location. 

“We like Terrace, and Terrace is well located in terms of hemlock and wood supply,” he said, adding that the company has spent a lot of time in the community. 

“It’s more questionable as to how it would rank with sending the product to market,” he said, explaining that the product will mainly go to Canada and United States, with the bulk of the engineered wood going south of the border. 

But engineered wood now makes up a big percentage of the beam and header market as well as flooring in new residential construction, Parker explained. He’s anticipating annual sales to range around $125 million for one plant, and thinks there will be enough demand in the market to start up three plants. 

Parker says that a success with the pilot lay-up trial will present a real opportunity to people interested in moving the overall forest products industry forward.

“I just know that we have a process and a product that we think can make a real change in the forest product industry,” he said.

The forest industry here could also get a kickstart from using the waste wood lying around in addition to wood already under licence.

One highly-anticipated project planned for Terrace is a bio-coal plant to be located on the Coast Tsimshian-owned Poirier log sort yard on the western edge of Kenney St.

An official from Vancouver-based Global Bio-Coal Energy met with wood licence holders in Terrace in early 2010, promoting its technology that would heat waste wood and turn it into a product that would replace coal in coal-fired power plants in Europe. 

The company then began talks with Lax Kw’alaams First Nation’s Coast Tsimshian Resources to build and operate a $30 million plant in Coast Tsimshian’s sort yard here. 

This cost includes $10 million for a facility to produce 4 megawatts of power. The plant would use 3.7 megawatts.

Global Bio-Coal CEO John Bennett explained that most of the money is coming from private investors, and they’ve also applied to the province’s Innovative Clean Energy Fund for money. Coast Tsimshian will deal with the wood supply, provide the land for the plant, and help with the day-to-day plant management.

Plans are to use an English microwave technology from a company called Rotawave, which heats waste wood and turns it into the bio-coal product. This product will have lower carbon emissions than coal, and will also be using fibre that is normally regarded as waste wood.

The plant will need approximately 300,000 to 350,000 cubic metres of fibre a year to produce 120,000 tonnes of bio-coal. Direct employment would be 20 people and there’s an estimated 120 more jobs in getting wood to the site and shipping the finished product away.

Global Bio-Coal and Coast Tsimshian officially announced their plans in September. While the company originally wanted to begin plant construction almost immediately, the expected start was delayed to finalize engineering plans. 

Those engineering details are still being worked on and latest plans are for an April or May start leading to a fall completion with production anticipated by early winter.

“We still hope to have it up and running by the end of the year, that’s the plan,” John said. “There’s no reason why we can’t.”

A $13 million order for plant technology was placed with Rotawave in September 2010, which John said will be assembled on its plant site on the Isle of Wight.

Rotawave is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Aberdeen-based Energy Environmental Group. Vikoma International Ltd. is a part of that company and it has factory space making oil spill recovery equipment on the Isle of Wight.

John also said Global Bio-Coal is finalizing contracts with bio-coal buyers. The list includes companies in Asia and it has also been working on a 20-year sales agreement with Vitol, a European company billing itself as a major independent energy trading company.

John has said the combination of the province’s fibre supply and efficiency of the Rotawave technology could lead to other bio-coal plants being constructed in B.C.