By Jim Stirling
Deals make the most sense when they’re equally beneficial to the parties making them. By that definition, many deals struck just don’t make much sense.
A wood fibre supply agreement in British Columbia’s Cariboo region however, is proving mutually beneficial to both its signatories.
Pinnacle Renewable Energy, a large industrial wood pellet manufacturing firm, has recognized that the types of fibre available from the region have changed and alternate sources are needed. For the Esk’etemc First Nation, the fibre supply agreement provides another way to use more parts of its timber supply base to enhance the landscape and benefit its people.
Alkali Resource Management Ltd (ARM) is the integrated forest management company for the Esk’etemc Nation. It’s based at Alkali Lake in the east Chilcotin, southwest of Williams Lake.
Making use of all the forest provides is a guiding principle for the Esk’etemc Nation, and the fibre supply agreement with Pinnacle represents its most recent example. The three-year fibre supply agreement between Pinnacle and ARM was formally signed last December. It calls for ARM to process, store and deliver a guaranteed 25,000 tonnes a year of biomass from harvest residuals resulting from forest activities on its lands. Biomass in this context is defined as the woody material of the tree left after traditional log harvesting methods.
Finding a productive use for the biomass prevents burning piles and reduces wildfire risks.
“What does the Pinnacle deal mean to the Esk’etemc?” asks Gord Chipman, forest manager for ARM. “Well, we see it as the way it should be to manage the forests for the future. The Esk’etemc are very tied to the land and have been concerned about what was being taken away. We see using the biomass as one more step towards full utilization and long term stability in the forest.”
ARM was formed in 2001 to manage the Esk’etemc Nation’s area-based forest assets on its traditional territories in the Alkali Lake region. This includes management of a 27,000-hectare community forest; a 60,000-hectare First Nation Woodlot Tenure and a 400-hectare woodlot. The community forest and woodland tenure produce about 70,000 cubic metres a year of sawlogs, pointed out Chipman. But harvested stands typically produce about 25 tonnes of biomass per hectare. “There’s a lot of it out there,” he understated.
About five years ago, the Esk’etemc Nation’s commitment to utilization was demonstrated through the creation of a district heating system based on biomass connecting all the band’s public buildings in Alkali Lake. Although the heating system only requires about 500 tonnes of biomass a year to run, it slowed the procession of propane trucks into the community from Williams Lake. And it helped reinforce the fibre utilization tone for the future.
ARM and its associated companies were busy during the first months of 2020, stockpiling biomass as part of the Pinnacle Pellet agreement. About 10,000 tonnes were awaiting the springtime relaxation of highway restrictions prior to shipment to Pinnacle’s plant in Williams Lake.
The Esk’etemc began leasing a CBI 6800 BT industrial chipper grinder from a Williams Lake company, Celtic Eldorado Construction, to treat the logging biomass. The 6800 Horizontal Grinder has been specifically designed for processors who demand high-volume throughput and maximum reliability, says CBI. The machine is the first grinder ever made that can grind whole trees as fast as a 30˝ chipper can chip, with a fraction of the prep and maintenance, says the company.
With an optional 1125 HP Cat C32 engine and production capacity of up to 200 tons per hour, the CBI 6800 is said to be a mobile wood processing juggernaut. The machine features a high torque, hydrostatic feed system, and a PT Tech hydraulic clutch.
The CBI dealer for B.C. is Frontline Machinery Ltd. Established in 2013, Frontline Machinery is a Canadian, family owned and operated mobile heavy equipment supplier specializing in the aggregate processing, wood, biomass, and waste and recycling industries.
ARM is examining re-load options for the stored biomass. Any decision made will be part of a deliberate approach. “We’re taking the ‘walk before run’ approach,” explained Chipman. That is also the case when it comes to new machine acquisition. Most of the tenures ARM manages are comprised of dry belt Douglas-fir. He says they’ve become overly dense because of the way they’ve been consistently managed. ARM has responded to stand characteristics with some juvenile spacing and fire hazard abatement projects. Commercial thinning is a future option under consideration, added Chipman.
The warming climate trend isn’t helping with new challenges like spruce budworm infestations and now, for the first time, the tussock moth. This pest has migrated into the Alkali Lake region from further south in B.C. The moth poses a risk to healthy Douglas fir stands by stripping trees of their needles.
Meanwhile, the fibre supply agreement with ARM slots into a broader strategy being implemented by Pinnacle Renewable Energy. The company knew the regional fibre available for its wood pellet manufacturing plants was changing. Dry sawmill residues which originally comprised an important furnish for pellet production were in shorter supply because of sawmill efficiencies. Exacerbating the situation has been sawmill fibre shortages, insect infestations, forest fires and politics that have collectively created a severe contraction in both sawmill numbers and production levels.
Pinnacle’s pellet plants in Williams Lake and at Meadowbank, about 40 kilometres north of Quesnel, have had to be adapted to accommodate the new realities.
“What we’re really looking at doing,” explained Pavel “Paul” Pawlowski, Pinnacle’s director of energy and environment to the media last fall, “is bringing in wetter material, which is the only material available today.”
It means developing methods to utilize fibre from a wider range of sources, including harvesting residuals, that might otherwise be burned. The pellet plant upgrades will contribute to their flexibility and achieve a series of safety and environmental advances, anticipates Pinnacle. The company also predicts an increase of 80,000 tonnes a year in combined overall pellet production capacity between Williams Lake and Meadowbank.
Key among the upgrades is the installation of “best in class” drying and air filtration technologies. Apart from the diversification in fibre types processed, the upgrade project is also predicted to contribute a more consistent particle size and prevent the overdrying of smaller fibre particles and shavings. Low temperature bed drying is incorporated into the plants (120-degrees C. compared with the more typical 500-degrees C. in conventional dryers). The lower drying temperatures contribute to a more even process, while lowering the risk of fire. Pinnacle predicts the increased air flow will improve particle dispersion while the air filtration will be enhanced by new baghouse installation. (Watch for a story on the Pinnacle plant upgrades in the next issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal).
Pinnacle Renewable Energy operates eight production facilities in western Canada and one in Alabama with two plants under construction (one in Alberta, the other in Alabama). The company also operates a purpose-built export port terminal in Prince Rupert, B.C. to serveits Asian customers.
On the Cover:
With equipment such as this Eltec harvester, Freya Logging, based in Prince George, B.C., has proven itself to be a versatile and diversified log harvesting contractor, handy attributes to have during a period of industry transition. Freya has demonstrated a willingness to take on a range of logging assignments in the B.C. Interior. Read all about the outfit beginning on page 8 of this issue (Cover photo courtesy of Freya Logging).
Win/win deal = getting more fibre out of the forest
A new fibre supply agreement in B.C.’s Cariboo region is leading to better forest resource utilization for the Esk’etemc First Nation, and more fibre for wood pellet producer, Pinnacle Renewable Energy.
Freya Logging tackles range of harvesting jobs
Freya Logging has proven to be a versatile and diversified logging contractor in the B.C. Interior, taking on a range of harvesting work, including commercial thinning, with a variety of equipment.
Making a mark with mill upgrade
A major investment in Alberta’s Foothills Forest Products is being described as a pivotal moment in the sawmill’s history.
Not your typical wood pellets …
The new Skeena Bioenergy plant in B.C. is not a typical wood pellet operation—using proven European equipment, it is turning out high quality wood pellets from a feedstock of Western Hemlock, not SPF.
Training for work—and a career—in the forest industry
A recently developed program in northwestern Ontario is helping to train First Nations members as equipment operators for work—and a career—in the forest industry.
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 (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
Tony Kryzanowski notes that a recent wood biomaterial supply agreement with a major player in the global cosmetics industry is massively important to the forestry sector.