Alberta supports early-stage projects to investigate new applications for lignin


Anew push to advance high-value, commercial applications for lignin is underway in Alberta, with the recent announcement of successful applicants to the Alberta Innovates Lignin Challenge 1.0 funding program.

Lignin Challenge 1.0 is co-sponsored by West Fraser Timber, which operates a lignin extraction demonstration facility at its pulp mill in Hinton, Alberta. The plant is capable of producing high-quality lignin using a novel extraction system called LignoForce. The 16 successful applicants will each receive $25,000, a quantity of lignin from West Fraser and technical support, plus access to researchers, capacity and facilities at InnoTech Alberta, an applied research subsidiary of Alberta Innovates. Projects must be completed within a year.

Lignin Challenge 1.0 is part of the Alberta Bio Future (ABF) funding program led and managed by Alberta Innovates. ABF supports projects that add value to biomass sourced from forestry and agriculture, leading to new and improved bioindustrial products and bioindustrial technologies.

This investment by Alberta Innovates and West Fraser is for early-stage idea development, testing and new application development using lignin as a feedstock material. “This work builds on the fundamental research related to lignin, a great deal of which has already been done,” says Christine Murray, Director of Agricultural Technologies at Alberta Innovates and a member of the application review committee.

“It is really about using lignin in an economical and effective way,” she says. “We have this unique, refined lignin resource in Alberta. The potential is in asking a lot of people, who may not have necessarily worked with lignin in the past, for their ideas on how to use it.”

There was a great deal of researcher interest in the program; Alberta Innovates received more applications than it was able to invest in under the program.

Eddie Peace, Bioproducts Co-ordinator at West Fraser, says the company is pleased to partner with Alberta Innovates in this program because it hopes to expand the number of avenues where its lignin can be applied, particularly in Alberta and across Canada.

“We are highly interested in those technologies that allow us to commercialize our lignin, which we hope can be used at scale eventually,” he says. “We were ultimately pleased with the variety and quality of project proposals we received under the Lignin Challenge 1.0 program. We hope to support more programs of this nature through Alberta Innovates and research groups.”

Here are a few project highlights.

One project relates to the development of renewable isocyanates from lignin. Isocyanates are chemicals used widely in the manufacture of fibres, flexible and rigid foams, coatings, paints, varnishes and elastomers. In 2016, the global isocyanates market was more than $30 billion (U.S.). It is forecast to reach $47 billion by 2022. Isocyanates are increasingly being used in the automotive industry, in autobody repair and building insulation materials, and in a wide range of retail, commercial and industrial uses to protect cement, wood, fibreglass, steel and aluminum—including protective coatings for truck beds, trailers, boats, foundations and decks.

Currently, isocyanates are produced from non-renewable petroleum resources. Due to recent stringent regulations implemented world-wide, the production of bio-based isocyanates has great potential. Lignin can be used to produce bio-based isocyanates.

Another project receiving funding from Lignin Challenge 1.0 involves development of ultra-light and highly flexible fibrous sponges and insulation materials containing a very high percentage of lignin. Lignin has unique thermal properties that make it a good material to use in this application. The project’s objective is to develop “scalable 3D, ultra-light, flexible, fibrous bulk materials from electrospun lignin-based nanofibres through a unique freeze-drying method and complemented by a post-heat method.”

A third project will investigate the use of lignin in the production of graphene, described as, “a rising star of materials”, with exceptional high crystallinity with superior mechanical and electronic properties.

Small sheets of graphene could be used in composites, functional coatings, fuel cells, batteries and super-capacitors, touch panels, low-cost solar cells, and next-generation flexible, wearable electronics.

Finally, Lignin Challenge 1.0 is also supporting a project that aims to adjust and refine the LignoForce extraction process at the West Fraser plant. The goal is to increase the number of formats and raw material specifications in which lignin can be provided to customers using lignin materials produced at a commercial scale, which will expand the number of industries and applications where these biomaterials can be used.

“We see these investigations into lignin use as a really strategic area within the bioeconomy, the province and the Alberta Bio Future program,” Murray says.

For more information about the Lignin Challenge 1.0 program and successful projects, contact Julia Necheff at [email protected].

Successful applicants to the Lignin Challenge 1.0 program will receive a quantity of lignin from the West Fraser lignin extraction plant in Hinton for their experimental use.

CWFC provides rare opportunity to witness commerical-scale harvest of mature short rotation woody crop where it all started


The Ellerslie Short Rotation Woody Crop Technical Development Site managed by the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) in Edmonton has achieved maturity. It will now end its service life as an important, real life, real time demonstration site to evaluate the harvesting, pre-processing, packaging and transportation of its various species of short rotation woody fibre crops for use by a variety of potential end users.

Started in 2002, it has achieved its full growth rotation and value as a model for the establishment of many other short rotation woody crop demonstration sites across Canada.

The CWFC Technology and Transfer Group, in partnership with industry and bioeconomy innovators, is organizing a series of exhibitions, local field demonstrations, trail walks, workshops, displays and virtual tech transfer opportunities over the next six months that will document and study the Ellerslie site’s final harvest, and transportation of raw materials to end users.

Among the potential final products for this wood fibre are wood pulp, oriented strand board (OSB) and bioenergy feedstock in the form of pellets, chips, logs, gas or liquids.

This commercial-scale 18-hectare site has achieved fibre volumes of 250 to 400 cubic metres per hectare over a very short time period of 12 to 16 years by the various hybrid poplar and aspen under high-yield afforestation management regimes, as well as 6 to 10 odts/ha/yr for hybrid poplar and willow species under concentrated biomass—two of the CWFC’s prescribed management systems.

Derek Sidders, CWFC Program Manager, Technology Development and Transfer, describes the Ellerslie site as the focal point and centre of the development of short rotation woody crops for the bioeconomy and also carbon mitigation and adaptation in Canada.

“This site hosts many of the different hybrid poplar and willow clones that have potential in Canada,” says Sidders. “This program is allowing us to take this site to full cycle, from developing the management practices, identifying potential species and clones, propagating and planting, and managing them to the point where the forests are mature. We now have a unique opportunity at very large scale to mimic, demonstrate and evaluate the commercial supply chain post-maturity.”

Ellerslie houses various examples of all three afforestation designs developed by CWFC over the past two decades, those being high yield afforestation, mixed wood afforestation, and concentrated biomass afforestation.

Sidders says that the Ellerslie site was challenging in some ways and ideal in others as an initial development site, which really helped in the development of other demonstration sites across Canada. Now, this rare end-of-service opportunity will greatly assist in gathering quality commercial data and knowledge transfer.

“We will be demonstrating how the supply chain can be integrated, looking at ways to maximize the fibre’s value while minimizing costs as it relates to recovering all the different types of fibre and their characteristics,” he says.

This harvest will also provide an invaluable research opportunity to gather data on such important topics as to the true value of these short rotation woody crops for carbon sequestration as part of Canada’s carbon mitigation and adaptation strategy.

As it unfolds, the program will show potential commercial users of CWFC’s various short rotation woody crop species and plantation designs how this afforestation approach can be integrated into current fibre basket and forest management systems, as well as provide feedstock for both conventional and novel bioproducts. It will also show how to maximize production from the land base through the implementation of such innovative designs as CWFC’s mixedwood afforestation pattern, which produces both a hardwood and softwood crop on the same site.

Various technologies will be used and evaluated as part of the harvesting demonstration, producing wood fibre in different formats from logs to chips to round bales, with the goal of then evaluating the amount of wood fibre that can be loaded and transported in a single truck load, depending on its physical form. The goal is to verify the cost of transporting this raw material in a variety of formats to end users.

Without a doubt, the Ellerslie site has demonstrated the commercial potential of short rotation woody fibre crops based on CWFC’s designs and management protocols; samples from this site represent the nest eggs and nucleus of the development of the next generation of demonstration sites.

“In Canada, natural forest production is about 1.7 cubic metres per hectare per year,” says Sidders. “On this site, we are producing anywhere from 16 to 22 cubic metres per hectare per year. So we are looking at 8 to 12 times the productivity that we would see in a natural forest.”

He emphasizes that the volumes achieved at Ellerslie are well above their initial expectations, but well within cost expectations, cost effectiveness of CWFC’s treatments, and the realization of the value of products generated on this site from a carbon offset, energy fuel and a conventional forest products perspective.

“Ellerslie demonstrates that there is cost-effectiveness in deploying this technology on the forest agriculture fringe and as an add-on that can be applied to conventional agriculture land management, where it offers diversity, site protection and long-term site sustainability,” he says. “With this program, we’re going to bring it to life for the end users, right in the centre of one of the major urban metropolises of Western Canada, the city of Edmonton.”

For more information about upcoming events as part of this program, contact Derek Sidders at [email protected] or Tim Keddy at [email protected]. Any person, organization or stakeholder group can contact CWFC for a private/custom tour of the site and its rich wealth of knowledge.

CWFC TEchincal Development Site


Logging and Sawmilling Journal
September 2018

On the Cover:
A new Sennebogen 830 M-T at the Cameron River Logistics operation in northern B.C. moves 16-foot CTL logs from truck to rail for the Dunkley sawmill. Watch for the next issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, and a feature story on how a Sennebogen 830 M-T log handler’s stacking ability has boosted yard capacity for Saskatchewan’s Edgewood Forest Products (Photo courtesy of Sennebogen).

Securing safer sawmills
Forest industry veteran—and safety advocate—Kerry Douglas has seen safety become a higher priority over the course of his 48-year career, with more focus on mill safety, especially in areas like dust containment.

B.C.’s Conifex Timber goes south…
B.C.-based Conifex Timber is doubling its production capacity with major sawmill investments in the U.S. South—including a significant upgrade to its El Dorado mill.

Capital investment delivers production boost
Ontario sawmiller Lavern Heideman & Sons has invested $17 million in its operations, and it has paid off big time, with an expected production boost of 60 per cent.

Idaho mill gets high tech makeover
The Idaho sawmill of Woodgrain Millwork is definitely on the upswing, thanks to a high tech makeover with equipment from suppliers, including HewSaw and Bosch Rexroth.

Going full tilt…
Tilt Contracting’s Russ Parsons has grown his operation, thanks to a strong focus on having logging equipment that delivers on B.C.’s steep slopes—and counts himself fortunate for having a solid crew, both at work and on the home front.

Upping veneer volume
Family-owned ATCO Wood Products has been able to double its production of veneer products over the last five years, with a series of smaller equipment upgrades and changes—and a team approach at the company.

Sawmilling is sometimes like a box of chocolates…
Operating a small sawmill for Saskatchewan’s Vernon Heatwole can be like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, in that he never knows what kind of unusual lumber order the next phone call will bring.

Keeping their options open—even with logging equipment
Maintaining their independence and keeping their options open—including being open to buying and selling equipment at any time—has paid off for veteran logging operation D & L Rehn Contracting.

Mountains of wood residue
A hog fuel working group that had sought workable solutions to the problems presented by the growing volumes of wood residues on the B.C. Coast has found there are no easy solutions to dealing with these mini-mountains of residual wood.

Saskatchewan sawmiller Dean Christiansen has taken a leap forward in equipment with an upgrade to a Wood-Mizer LT70 electric band sawmill, which has allowed him to double his production potential.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and Alberta Innovates.

The Last Word


Tech Update: Yarders

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