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Kruger’s Biomass Gasifier Fuels Customers’ Need for Green

n investment by Kruger Products L.P. in a biomass gasification system at its New Westminster, B.C. tissue mill is giving the company a competitive advantage, as well as greater assurance that it will be allowed to continue to do business with...


February 1, 2011
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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Air emissions were an important consideration at Kruger's New Westminster site

n investment by Kruger Products L.P. in a biomass gasification system at its New Westminster, B.C. tissue mill is giving the company a competitive advantage, as well as greater assurance that it will be allowed to continue to do business with its more environmentally sensitive retail customers.

“It is becoming the price of entry,” says Kruger Products vice-president of technology, Frank van Biesen. “The Walmarts of the world are creating scorecards and rigorous metrics around supplier performance, leading to their own environmental and sustainability position, whether it is carbon footprinting, package reduction, etc.”

He adds that it is literally impossible now to play in that retail market space, which also includes companies like Costco, unless, as a supplier, you are able to demonstrate that you are doing something constructive, measurable, and meaningful regarding environmental impact reductions or improvements.

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A life-cycle assessment confirms that the biomass gasification technology provided by Nexterra Energy Systems Corp. for the New Westminster site fits the bill for constructive, measurable environmental benefits.

The syngas produced by Kruger’s twin gasifier system heats about 65% of the tissue mill’s process steam needs in summer and 45% in winter, saving the company more than $1 million annually in natural gas costs.

LCA confirms benefit of biomass

The project delivers a number of environmental dividends that the company anticipates will gain the attention of its customers. FPInnovations conducted a life cycle assessment (LCA) study of the project to help validate the environmental benefits of this technology compared with the old fossil fuel-based energy system.

“LCA was a disciplined approach to really look at the whole cradle to grave life cycle,” explains FPInnovations vice-president, Alan Potter. “You can very easily create a strong environmental case just by looking at one part of the cycle, but by looking at the whole life cycle of the installation, you have a more realistic sense of what the impact of switching to biomass gasification is.”

The LCA study determined that by converting to syngas generated by the biomass gasifier, the mill’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped by about 22,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. Because British Columbia has a carbon tax, Kruger estimates that this emissions reduction saved the company about $380,000 in provincial emission taxes in 2010 alone, increasing annually to $580,000.

By generating a portion of its energy needs from syngas, Kruger is consuming about 40,000 bone dry tonnes of woody biomass annually that would have ended up in landfills.

The project has also significantly improved the air quality emanating from the tissue mill, which is important considering that it is located right in New Westminster. FPInnovations has determined that particulate emissions from the mill are now practically zero, and carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds emissions are also exceptionally low.

“There is definitely a marketing advantage, especially in the consumer products business, when there is a story to be told and there is concrete action which we can demonstrate,” says van Biesen. “While you can’t go out into the marketplace and command a greater price for having done so, you can certainly strengthen and/or cement customer relationships with these types of initiatives.”

A first for gasification in paper

Kruger Products is the first Canadian pulp and paper company to install a commercial biomass gasification system with the direct syngas firing technology supplied by B.C.-based Nexterra Energy Systems Corp. The project involved a consortium of Kruger, Nexterra, and FPInnovations, with funding support from Natural Resources Canada, Western Economic Diversification Canada, and the province of British Columbia.

“Ultimately, this project will take biomass technology one step closer to market, which will benefit the western Canadian economy overall and create jobs for Canadians, all while providing clean renewable energy options to business,” says Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification (WD), Lynne Yelich.

The biomass gasification installation is catching the attention of many other Canadian and international forest companies. Dozens of company representatives attended a recent open house hosted by the consortium that showcased the installation. Both Kruger and Nexterra continue to receive regular inquiries about the system.

Andrew Goodison of FPInnovations is a project manager with the Canadian forest industry’s Future Biopathways Initiative. He says he is not surprised by the amount of interest being shown by industry in the Kruger installation.

“Demonstration and validation of these types of projects really help reduce some of the risk factors to commercially acceptable levels; allowing the industry to further invest in implementing this type of technology,” he says. “It helps to reduce the technology risk and it allows us to stress-test some of the economics associated with these technologies.”

The Future Biopathways Initiative was launched by FPInnovations, the Canadian Forest Service and the Forest Products Association of Canada in 2009 to help provide industry with better baseline information on making inroads into the bio-economy and with a framework to support decision making. While helping industry understand the tradeoffs, information gathered as part of the Initiative is also helping to identify and fill knowledge gaps so that individual companies can select the right pathways for their specific circumstances.

Goodison emphasizes that it is important for each company to conduct a detailed analysis to determine if adopting biomass gasification technology makes economic sense for them because each province treats such issues as the management and disposal of forestry biomass and carbon taxes differently. He adds that the short- to medium-term price for natural gas is one of the key drivers in how quickly companies will be prepared to invest in alternative energy projects like biomass gasification.

Project gains worldwide honours

Both Kruger Products and Nexterra are gaining attention from a variety of organizations eager to recognize technological advances that lighten industry’s footprint on the environment. Kruger Products has been nominated for a United Nations ‘Champions of the Earth’ Award, a Pulp & Paper International Award for Green Energy & Biofuels, and a Platts Global Energy Award for Green Energy Efficiency. Van Biesen also won a 2010 Canadian Award for Environmental Innovation sponsored by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and 3M Canada, and Kruger Products received a 2010 Applied Energy Innovation Award from the Canadian Institute for Energy. Nexterra received the Best Application of Technology Award from the BC Technology Industry Association for the system it designed and installed in New Westminster.

Nexterra co-founder and CEO, Jonathan Rhone, believes this type of recognition will contribute to proliferation of the technology.

“These awards provide another source of validation and credibility that Nexterra’s technologies and products are doing what we say they are supposed to do,” says Rhone. “It creates confidence with other customers, helps to create awareness, and creates interest from new customers as well.”

Because of the many other business benefits that Kruger Products has achieved by switching to biomass-generated syngas, van Biesen says the company has no regrets about making the switch despite the current low price for natural gas.

“I don’t lose a moment of sleep over the subject because in the long term, I am sure that the price of natural gas will increase,” he says. “But these days, with companies being short on capital, it’s not easy to make decisions based on long term pricing tren
ds. The tendency is to try to deliver shorter term paybacks.”

Van Biesen agrees that having validation is critical if the objective is to achieve greater use of this technology within the pulp and paper sector, given the nature of the industry.

“This industry has long been based on a tendency to not adopt technology unless it has already shown to be advantageous or proven,” he says. “It’s not a high tech business where risk taking is common. This business is too tight on margins, and too cost-oriented or commoditized. So if you are talking about investments and cost reduction investments, you want to know in advance that it is going to work.”

Given the nature of the industry, the level of continued interest has been encouraging.

“Independent of the Open House, we have had countless visits, tours and demonstrations to single entities who have requested entry for the purposes of seeing what’s going on, how it works, and evaluating the benefits and challenges,” says van Biesen. “That’s the acid test for me as to what level of interest there is.”

Kruger Products is considering the installation of similar technology at its other facilities where the economics can be justified, and is currently evaluating various approaches. To satisfy a changing market with an increasing number of environmentally sensitive retail customers, alternative technologies such as this are quickly becoming the price of entry. PPC


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