By Jim Stirling
New wood manufacturing plants are often finicky creations. Their start-ups are frequently fraught with delays and troubleshooting issues as they gradually evolve into full production mode.
But by all accounts, the new Smithers Pellet plant was purring like a kitten right from its commissioning late in 2018.
“It was a real team effort that contributed to our successful start-up,” said Mike Cooper, plant manager at the newly minted facility in the town of Smithers, in west central British Columbia.
Smithers Pellet had several positive factors on its side contributing to the smooth start-up. The new Smithers plant is compact in size, with a straightforward design and an easily processed fibre base. The pedigree of parent company, Pinnacle Renewable Holdings Inc., doesn’t hurt either.
From modest beginnings in B.C.’s Cariboo country in the mid-1980s, Pinnacle has steadily grown into one of the world leaders in the manufacture and distribution of industrial wood pellets.
Pinnacle now has eight production facilities in Western Canada and one in Alabama delivering a green renewable energy source to large scale power generating customers in the U.K, Europe and, more recently, Japan and Korea.
The Smithers Pellet Limited Partnership has Pinnacle holding a 70 per cent stake in the operation and its partner, West Fraser Timber Co Ltd, the remaining 30 per cent. It represents a good mix, converting under-utilized wood fibre from varying sources and using it for green energy production.
Smithers Pellet’s production capacity is estimated at 125,000 tonnes a year, which the company anticipates reaching in the third quarter of fiscal 2019.
The new Smithers Pellet plant is strategically located adjacent to West Fraser’s Pacific Inland Resources Division’s sawmill and planer complex. The pellet mill creates a new profile at the site which was occupied for years by Northern Engineered Wood Products Inc (Newpro). In its most recent- and final-incarnation, Newpro was manufacturing medium density fibreboard on the site. One large building currently used primarily for storage has been retained by Smithers Pellet, said Cooper, with the majority of the complex creating its own footprint on site.
West Fraser supplies spruce, pine and fir sawmill residues in the form of chips, sawdust and planer shavings. Cooper explained that all the furnish for Smithers Pellet arrives on site by truck. A portable chipping contractor converts the solid wood piles of material retrieved from the bush after logs suitable for conversion to dimension lumber have been harvested and processed.
Raw material volumes for Smithers Pellet also come from Seaton Forest Products Ltd’s export sawmill operation near Wiset, north of Smithers. Seaton’s main business is processing dry balsam fir typically unwanted by the large licencees in the region. A small mill creates cants for export to Asia. The slabs produced are chipped for use at Smithers Pellet. Seaton also utilizes wood fibre from wood piles left in the bush and burned in wildfires. Finding productive uses for the material helps reduce fuel build-up on the landscape and mitigates future wildfire risk.
Jeff Johnston is general manager of operations for Smithers Pellet and he outlined the wood pellet manufacturing process at the new plant. The initial major step sees sawmill residues go through a drying process. The objective is to reduce the temperature of the material mix down to the required eight to 10 per cent range. The Stela dryer is manufactured in Germany and has two 12 MW gas burners supplied by Roses & Wayler, said Johnston. The previously dried planer shavings from West Fraser are delivered into the system separately.
A Bliss Industries 4460 hammer mill reduces all particle sizes to a 3/8” minus category, added Johnston. The final major stage in the manufacturing process is pelletizing and the plant has installed three Andritz LM2 pelletizer machines. A Continental Conveyors system is responsible for the bulk material conveying around the plant. The Brampton, Ontario-based company’s crews also installed explosion hatches on all dry fibre conveyors for isolation, pointed out Johnston.
Preventative safety measures and monitoring systems are high priorities in wood pellet mill design and function. Johnston cited an additional couple of examples. “We have a CV tech explosion suppression system installed on transition points and air max fans to keep dust down and away from the rafters.”
Smithers Pellet benefitted during the project planning and construction phases from being part of the larger Pinnacle Pellet family of plants. A Stela dryer was installed in the company’s Lavington, B.C. wood pellet manufacturing facility in 2016. The dryer had performed well and the corporate decision was made to install a similar unit in the smaller Smithers plant. One of the features of the dryer is its ability to slow dry fibre and improve air circulation. A team from Lavington was on hand to help with the Smithers installation.
“The Stela dryer had multiple modifications,” recalled Johnston. They included installing larger burners and positioning them at each end of the dryer. “The larger burners and better position will increase drying efficiency and larger exhaust fans will also allow for increased dryer evaporation.”
Smithers Pellet made use of local and regional contractors where possible throughout its project. The list of major contractors includes: Kaynic Construction of Grande Prairie, Alberta as the main mechanical contractor with additional work from Black Fox Enterprises of Valemount, B.C. Service Electric of Quesnel was the main electrical contractor. For the foundations and civil work, Hausi Contracting and North Central Plumbing and Heating of Smithers were the contractors. Allied Blower did the baghouse and ducting work.
The finished wood pellets are loaded into Pinnacle Pellet’s own fleet of rail cars. CN Rail’s main line is adjacent to the plant for the journey to tidewater at Prince Rupert. The pellets are unloaded at Pinnacle’s own customized Westview Port Terminal in preparation for shipment to customers in Japan and South Korea under long term contracts.
Smithers Pellet plant manager Cooper said there are 19 employees at the operation including supervisors. Their immediate task is to keep the Smithers Plant on its smooth track toward design potential. As familiarity with the process grows so do the opportunities for improvement. “There are always ways to get better,” added Cooper.
On the Cover:
From mill loaders to trucks to logging equipment, it will all be featured at the upcoming Canada North Resources Expo, taking place May 24 to 25 in Prince George, B.C. Read all about the show, and who is going to be there, beginning on page 30 of this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, the Official Show Guide (Cover photo of Tolko mill operation by Paul MacDonald).
Strategic sanitation logging—from the air
A targeted sanitation logging program—including heli-logging—of beetle-infected Douglas fir is underway in the B.C. Interior, and it looks like it’s having an impact on controlling the rate of spread of the beetle.
There is a heckuva large log salvage project going on in B.C., but it’s got nothing to do with beetle salvage or fire-salvage—this kind of salvage involves logging green merchantable timber as part of building the massive $10 billion Site C dam in northeastern B.C.
First Nations bridge building—with wildfire wood
A First Nations-owned company in the B.C. Interior, Cariboo Aboriginal Forest Enterprises, is building bridges—and soon will be building homes—with lumber they’re producing from wood burned in a 2017 wildfire.
Protecting a community (forestry) asset
The Williams Lake Community Forest in the B.C. Interior is working to both manage an expanding Douglas fir beetle infestation and put in place wildfire mitigation strategies to protect and enhance what has become a valued and well-used asset.
Pellet plant delivering polished performance
Bringing new manufacturing plants online can be a challenge, but the Smithers Pellet plant in the B.C. Interior is clicking right along, thanks to a team effort on its start-up in late-2018.
Jack of all trades logger
David Craig is truly a jack of all trades when it comes to equipment and logging, doing everything from timber harvesting to log clean-up at a lake for one of B.C’s largest dams.
Finding their logging niche…
Family-owned C&H Logging has found their logging niche in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, and these days three generations of the Carter Family are carrying on operations, with safety and sustainability top of mind.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates and Canadian Wood Fibre Centre.
Official Show Guide — Canada North Resources Expo
As the Official Show Guide, Logging and Sawmilling Journal has the full scoop on the Canada North Resources Expo—coming up May 24 to 25 in Prince George, B.C.—from feature editorial to a site map to the full listing of exhibitors at this great resource industry show.
The Last Word
Columnist Jim Stirling asks the question: Will the forest policy review for the B.C. Interior yield a new vision for the forest industry?