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Mill Waste Headed For Backyard BBQs

A Calgary company is finalizing plans for a $10-million charcoal briquette plant in BC - utilizing wood waste that once went into smoke-belching beehive burners.

By Jim Stirling
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Wood waste generated from sawmill operations is gradually becoming a misnomer. Waste disposal problems for one venture create an opportunity for another, with positive repercussions for improved resource utilization, environmental protection and employment gains.

An innovative example is taking shape in west-central British Columbia. Plans are well advanced to convert sawmill wood wastes into charcoal barbecue briquettes for the dining delight of European epicureans. Riverside Carbon Products Inc. plans to construct and operate charcoal producing plants at Houston and Carnaby, near Hazelton, using wood residues as feedstock. The resultant charcoal will be shipped to another company-owned plant in Thunder Bay, Ontario where it will be made into briquettes for export.

Riverside Carbon is a BC company and a wholly owned subsidiary of Southern Ventures Inc. The privately owned company has its Canadian headquarters in Calgary and home office in Cottondale, Alabama.

BC sawmills are under pressure by the provincial government to seek alternatives to the incineration of wood wastes. A timetable has been set to eliminate beehive burners and reduce air pollution. The deadline for the Houston burner's phase-out is the end of 1997. The government's edict, combined with the number of large sawmills in a relatively small area, makes the Houston-Hazelton region attractive for charcoal production and the establishment of a new value-added industry.

The size of the charcoal plants is dependent on the long-term fibre supply agreements signed with regional licencees. "About $10 million per plant is a ballpark figure, depending on final business and equipment decisions,'' estimates Benjamin Wood, vice-president, public relations for Southern Ventures in Alabama. Waste management permits to construct and process about 200,000 bone-dry tonnes at each of the two plants were issued in January after provincial officials had examined the company's proposal. The relationship between wood residue required and charcoal produced is about four to one. For example, approximately 100,000 tonnes of charcoal/year would be recovered from 400,000 bone-dry tonnes/year of wood residue using Riverside's technology.

The first charcoal plant is scheduled for construction at Houston where fibre supply agreements were very close to finalization at press time. The major licencees there are Houston Forest Products and Northwood Pulp & Timber's Houston Division. "We anticipate the essential volumes to come from them but we expect to develop agreements with several smaller mills,'' adds David Parsons, vice-president, project development for Southern Ventures based in Sooke, BC. Parsons became aware of and interested in the project about two and half years ago through his work for the BC Ministry of Environment. "I felt it was a worthwhile project that met environmental and other provincial goals," he recalls. He left the ministry to work as a consultant on the project before joining the Southern Venture's companies full time last March.

The Houston plant should be operational by year end and the Carnaby plant is staged to follow in 1998. The Carnaby charcoal plant will be located near Repap BC's sawmill. Repap BC has been granted protection from its creditors until September while it develops a restructuring strategy. Parsons concedes Repap's problems may have some repercussions on the timing of the Carnaby charcoal plant. But he says Repap BC and Southern Ventures were developing a fibre supply agreement and continue to recognize the benefits of the plant.

More than 800,000 tonnes of charcoal barbecue briquettes are produced in North America every year. Making them is part of a time-honored tradition. The ever-resourceful Henry Ford used scrap hardwood from the manufacture of Model Ts to make charcoal for briquettes at Iron Mountain, Michigan in the 1920s.

The Southern Ventures proposal is considerably more sophisticated. Parsons says using the company's process to produce charcoal has proven highly efficient in pilot projects.

Parsons defines usable wood residues as any kind of wood waste generated in sawmilling operations including bark, sawdust and butt ends. Converting log yard wood debris presents no technical difficulties but may offer logistical problems.

The Houston plant will enclose approximately 1,200 square metres on land owned by Northwood. Wood residues delivered to it will have an average moisture content of 50 per cent and will be pre-dried in two vibratory driers. The residues will then be heated in negligible amounts of oxygen in hot, moving-bed furnaces to produce charcoal. Off-gases from the charring process will be collected and re-used as fuel for pre-drying or charring the residues. Excess gases will be used to heat boilers to produce steam that will drive a turbine and create electricity. Parsons is confident surplus electrical power produced can be sold to nearby industrial plants or to BC Hydro.

The ability to keep produced gases recycling through the process results in a major reduction of particulate emissions into the airshed. Beehive burners typically emit up to 125 mg/m3 of particulate matter. Southern Ventues says its charcoal plants will emit less than 10 mg/m3. The environment ministry's goal is 50 mg/m3 or less.

Most of the solids from the wood residues are converted to charcoal, while the effluent contains mainly water from the wood. These liquids will be condensed as the gases being vented from the pre-driers pass through a wet-packed column scrubber. The remaining effluent is further purified by a primary filter at the base of the scrubber to remove coarse solids. The liquid passes through a fabric filter followed by a two-stage activated charcoal/zeolite filter system prior to discharge into an equilization basin and ground disposal system.

The charcoal produced is cooled and transferred to storage bins. It is in a powdery and granular form by this stage, explains Parsons. The charcoal will be pneumatically loaded into enclosed hopper cars for rail shipment to Thunder Bay.

The two charcoal plants are expected to create a total of 30 to 40 new full-time jobs. A further 50 to 60 jobs are predicted in a new briquetting plant scheduled for construction in Thunder Bay this summer. The briquetting operation will be built close to a starch/gluten plant acquired recently by Southern Ventures. The plant had been closed after about 100 years of operation before being given a new lease on life by Southern Ventures.

Starch comprises six to nine per cent of the weight of charcoal barbecue briquettes and is blended as a binding agent. The charcoal briquettes will be aimed primarily at European markets, although further national and international options will be explored.

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