Pellet Partnership

Using innovation  and some creative  partnerships, Canfor’s  Houston region has  set up a new pellet  manufacturing plant  and is using bark to  fire an on-site energy  system. 

By Jim Stirling

Canadian Forest Products Ltd’s  Houston Region has capitalized  on creative partnerships—and  innovation—to convert an environmental  and business problem into a green and  viable solution. The company is directing  sawdust and planer shavings from its high  production sawmill to feed a new pellet  manufacturing plant. And it’s using bark  to fire an on-site energy system.  The results of the initiatives are farreaching.  Canfor’s Houston Division in  west central British Columbia will gain  energy independence and eliminate natural gas as a primary energy source for the operation.

Beehive burners, already on death row by provincial government regulation, will vanish from the Bulkley Valley around Houston to the delight of area residents concerned about airshed quality. Further, the pellet plant part of the solution marks a new venture for Canfor’s Houston Region. It is one that will enhance the company’s competitive edge, especially in times of poor lumber markets.

Partnerships play a key role. The new plant is a partnership between Canfor, Pinnacle Pellet Ltd, and the Moricetown Band. Pinnacle Pellet has accumulated more than 20 years of experience in producing and marketing wood pellets. It is a Canadian pioneer in the industry with operating plants in BC’s Cariboo region.

The timing is good and the location excellent for the partners’ prospects. Europe and Asia understand the benefits of wood biomass as a green and renewable energy source. And North America is now awakening to the potential.

Wood pellets satisfy the market demand for CO2 neutral, Kyoto compliant, green bio-energy, points out Peter Brand, vice-president marketing and business development for Pinnacle Pellet. “This demand will continue to grow as society and business becomes more aware of the urgent need to take action,” he adds.

Total cost for the pellet plant, including associated shipping infrastructure and the energy system, is $55 million.

The sawdust from Canfor’s Houston sawmill, separated and collected from the mill, is first dried before joining the shavings in storage silos (above), prior toinfeed into the pellet plant.

Canfor has worked long and hard since the late 1990s to deal with its wood residue issues. In concert with West Fraser—another large licensee in the region—Canfor examined the feasibility of a power co-generation facility. But finding the right operating partner and the then unfavourable structure for bio-energy power producers in BC eventually frustrated plans.

“By early 2004, we started looking at options for ourselves,” recalls Leroy Reitsma, business development manager for Canfor’s Houston Region. “We have  an older steam plant, and we looked to  see if it was timely to replace that with a  bark fired system. And we wanted to see  what the whitewood options were.”  Pinnacle Pellet was among the pellet  producers to approach Canfor. “We  felt this was a business that was going  to go somewhere. Pinnacle Pellet has a  domestic and international reputation for  quality and the innovation that has driven  that quality,” explains Reitsma.  The Moricetown Band is an equally good fit. Canfor already has a successful joint venture with the band through Kyahwood Forest Products, a lumber remanufacturing business. “We’ve got a very nice partnership with all the elements of economic development opportunities for First Nations, a viable fibre supply and the expertise to make it happen,” summarizes Reitsma.

The bark-fired energy system is 100 per cent Canfor owned. It has to be. The company needs to maintain control of the mill’s energy supply. “Without steam for the dry kilns, for example, we can’t manufacture lumber,” observes Reitsma.

Most of 2005 was devoted to development of a business case for the projects, untangling logistical challenges and promoting marketing efforts for the pellets. Pinnacle’s personnel were pivotal to development of a business case for the projects, untangling logistical challenges and promoting marketing efforts for the pellets. Pinnacle’s personnel were pivotal in that process.

Design and engineering on the wood pellet plant began early in 2006, under the direction of Stolberg Engineering Ltd, in association with Pinnacle Pellet. Groundwork kicked off April 10 and the first wood pellets were produced in the plant at 11:_0 pm, August 28, reports Reitsma.

The impressively short time frame was a credit to all the contractors involved and Brock Martin, Pinnacle’s project manager, Reitsma adds. “Pinnacle’s design, more than others in the pellet industry, makes use of gravity and that’s cheap,” notes Reitsma. “Much of the conveying is done by gravity. It’s a simple design.”

With the new pellet manufacturing plant and on-site energy system, beehive burners (at far left in background of photo) will become history around the Houston area.

The pellets are manufactured from planer shavings and sawdust using heat and high pressure. Plans call for the production of 1_5,000 tonnes of pellets a year from the wood residues originating solely at present from the Houston sawmill and planer operations.

The sawdust, separated and collected from the mill, is first dried before joining the shavings in storage silos prior to infeed into the pellet plant. Primary production machines include three Bliss Industries hammermills. Downstream, five bins meter material through augurs to five identical pelletizer machines from Andritz to form the pellets. They utilize pressure, not chemicals, and the pellets emerge from the process at room temperature.

Canfor and its pellet manufacturing partners plan on further developing a northern market for its product. But in the meantime, there will be bulk exports of pellets overseas and across North America. With that in mind, the partnership has worked with the management of Ridley Terminals, near Prince Rupert, to utilize some of the port’s excess capacity. Pellets travel from Houston by CN Rail in covered grain cars to the Ridley Island location for storage and shipment offshore. Further storage silos for the pellets will be constructed as the business expands. Reitsma points out bulk shipping in large vessels makes freight optimization sense.

All the contractors working on the pellet plant project were first class, says Reitsma. BID Construction of Prince George and Vanderhoof was responsible for mechanical installations and also worked on the bark energy system. Milltron Electric Inc, of Prince George was prime electrical contractor and Airtek Pneumatics of Surrey, BC, also played a key role. Peterson Contracting Ltd, of Williams Lake was responsible for site preparation; Central Interior Formwork of Prince George for the concrete work. Conveyor work for the project was performed by Salem Contracting Ltd, of Prince George and Columbia Machine Works provided the belting component. Local contractors in Houston also benefitted from the pellet plant project. They included Hausi Contracting Ltd, which Reitsma says did a fantastic job on a range of building work associated with the pellet plant project.

Canfor’s new energy system was supplied by GTS Energy. It is designed to use 125,000 oven dried tonnes of bark annually.

The system uses a sophisticated boiler system to produce the energy required to run the sawmill, the operation’s 12 dry kilns and the pellet plant. Bark as produced in a variety of moisture contents can be accommodated in the energy system. Key components of the system include two GTS reciprocating grate furnaces followed by two radiation heaters and a convection heater. Reitsma says the system is clean and efficient. All that needs to be disposed of is pH-neutral ash, he adds.

Canfor’s Leroy Reitsma on Pinnacle Pellet’s design of the new pellet plant: “Much of the conveying is done bygravity. It’s a simple design.”

for Canfor’s Houston Region. “We have an older steam plant, and we looked to see if it was timely to replace that with a bark fired system. And we wanted to see what the whitewood options were.”

Pinnacle Pellet was among the pellet producers to approach Canfor. “We felt this was a business that was going to go somewhere. Pinnacle Pellet has a domestic and international reputation for quality and the innovation that has driven that quality,” explains Reitsma.

That represents an appropriate postscript for Canfor’s projects in Houston: energy autonomy; total fibre utilization and forging a new green business with a promising future. A good solution, indeed.

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