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Pulp & Paper: Big news for biofuel advocates


December 19, 2016  


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The news wires were buzzing recently with the announcement of two potentially massive, biofuels projects constructed in Canada. Both use wood fibre as their feedstock. One is slated for Quebec and the other involves Canfor Pulp Products in Prince George, B.C.

Whether both projects will witness the same level of government support when the shovels hit the ground remains to be seen. Yet notwithstanding who the final dance partners will be, both projects are extremely good news for the Canadian forest industry and particularly the pulp and paper sector. Canfor Pulp has signed an agreement to form a joint-venture under the name of Licella Pulp Joint Venture with Australian-based Licella Fibre Fuels Pty Ltd.

It is a relationship where Canfor Pulp will provide the raw materials, which are by-products of the pulping process, and Licella will pony up with its Cat- HTR process to convert the raw materials into biocrude that it says is almost indistinguishable from conventional crude oil. However, the goal is not necessarily to compete with crude oil, but to manufacture biocrude in the $120 to $140 per barrel range for specific, downstream uses.

This would include both biofuels and biochemicals. Canfor Pulp is a global supplier of pulp and paper products with operations in the central interior of British Columbia, employing about 1,300 people. It owns and operates three mills in Prince George with a total capacity of 1.1 million tonnes of premium reinforced Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft (NBSK) pulp and 140,000 tonnes of kraft paper.

It operates another mill in Taylor, B.C., with an annual production capacity of 220,000 tonnes of Bleached Chemi-Thermo Mechanical Pulp (BCTMP). Canfor Pulp is the largest North American and one of the largest global producers of market NBSK Pulp. “Biofuels and biochemicals represent the next frontier in the utilization of sustainable wood fibre to produce green energy and chemicals,” says Canfor CEO Don Kayne.

“This initiative underscores Canfor Pulp’s commitment to innovation and the importance of green energy and chemicals in our future product mix, and we look forward to developing this potentially transforming technology with Licella.”

Ultimately, the goal is to construct a $70-million commercial biocrude production facility attached to Canfor’s pulp operations in Prince George. That will come to fruition if the joint venture determines that what Licella has accomplished so far can be replicated in a 400,000-barrel- per-year facility. The joint venture will also have to determine if there is a market for all the end product.

While a partnership between a blue-chip Canadian pulp producer such as Canfor with an offshore company claiming a technology that can produce a stable biocrude product might typically raise eyebrows, it appears the relationship between the two companies has been going on for quite some time. Licella has been working with biomass and wood residues supplied by Canfor since 2013, conducting preliminary trials on the feedstock supplied by the pulp producer at its pilot plants located in New South Wales.

In announcing the joint venture, Licella said its trials yielded a stable biocrude oil, which led to discussions of a possible joint venture. The company adds it has spent $60 million Australian dollars over the past eight years to develop and scale up its Cat-HTR platform to a third-generation iteration. The fourth generation will be a 10-times scale up, featuring a commercial- scale module for potential installation in Prince George.

“The Cat-HTR process is a strong technical fit for the kraft process,” says Canfor president Brett Robinson. “The opportunity to directly produce advanced biofuels from our existing streams could transition Canfor Pulp from being strictly a pulp and paper manufacturer to a bio-energy producer as well. The Licella technology has significant similarities to our existing processes which makes this partnership a natural fit.”

That is one attractive aspect to Licella’s technology — that it can fit seamlessly into Canfor Pulp’s existing process. Licella seems serious about advancing its partnership with Canfor, as it is sending engineers from Australia to train Canfor workers on how its technology works.

While there has been some public disclosure by Canfor about investing in this technology as the joint venture’s work advances, what’s not being discussed is if, and how, governments might become involved to collect the $70 million needed for a commercial-scale plant. Maybe they won’t be involved at all, which in itself would be quite an accomplishment.

Contrast this project with the more advanced AE Cote-Nord Canada Bioenergy Inc. project in Port-Cartier, Que., also announced earlier this year. This is a scale-up of made-in-Canada technology developed at the University of Western Ontario and commercialized by Ensyn Corp. to use wood fibre to create biocrude. Ground has already broken on this $103.9-million project, with the expectation that it will come on line at the end of 2017.

The private partners in this case are Ensyn Bioenergy Canada, headquartered in Renfrew, Ont., and Quebec-based Arbec Forest Products and Remabec Group. Using its Rapid Thermal Processing (RTP) technology, Ensyn, and a joint venture partner, Honeywell International Inc., operate a smallscale facility in Renfrew that produces a light biocrude oil.

To date, it’s main market has been heating oil. Yet like the Licella product, the biocrude can be refined to produce, for example, cleaner transportation fuels. The Cote-Nord plant will produce about 40 million litres of biocrude annually using 65,000 dry tones of forestry by-products. What’s interesting is the three private partners are only investing $27.4 million into the facility.

The federal government, through Natural Resources Canada and Sustainable Development Technology Canada will contribute $44.5 million while the Quebec government is adding another $32 million. While it is admirable these two levels of government are supporting the proliferation of technology developed in Canada, it will be interesting to see if there is the same level of support for the Licella Pulp joint venture, if the partners ask for it.

About the author: Tony Kryzanowski writes a bout forestry, alternative energy, and natural sciences for a variety of national and international publications, and is headquartered in St. Albert, Alta.