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PacWest 2008, a successful formula

As with most conferences recently, PacWest has suffered from declining attendance and participation -but the organizers have been successful in doing something about it! Two years ago, they took a har...


September 1, 2008
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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As with most conferences recently, PacWest has suffered from declining attendance and participation -but the organizers have been successful in doing something about it! Two years ago, they took a hard look at their format, venues and timing to see what improvements could be made. For 2007, the organizers reformatted the conference, shortened it, focused on the technical aspects and de-emphasized the social aspects of the agenda. Many of the changes were made in response to comments from the mills, who are the main drivers behind most conferences. The success of these changes was reflected in the increased attendance as well as the higher proportion of mill attendees and mill papers.

This successful formula was continued in 2008, with the conference held in Jasper, Alta. from June 18-21. This is the largest pulp and paper industry conference in Western Canada and has become one of the most important for the sector in NAFTA. The PacWest conference always affords an excellent opportunity to interact with peers and learn the status of the industry. This year kicked off with the traditional opening forum, following the theme of S (People + Energy + Fibre). Speakers at this forum were largely upbeat, covering topics that have or are now leading to improvements in the industry, with a strong focus on energy generation and conservation. There was also a discussion of the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic, which was highly positive -claiming that the forests will bounce back from this infestation.

The first speaker at the forum was Jimmy Lee, president and CEO of Mercer International. Mercer’s connection with North America is its ownership of the Celgar mill -now Zellstoff Celgar. Mercer is a dynamic company, with the only two Kraft mills in Germany as part of its portfolio. They have a different focus on the use of biomass for energy. As the EU depends upon Russia for natural gas, biomass energy is not just a cost savings opportunity, but a matter of energy security. Mercer views the use of biomass for dedicated energy generation to be very inefficient, as generation efficiency is only about 40%. In a cogeneration facility, exhaust steam from a power turbine can then be used in a pulp mill, increasing the energy efficiency up to about 85%. Further, as the electricity is used in the mill at the generation site, there is no transmission loss. There are some threats, however: the increasing price of oil makes wood a more attractive energy source. If easy conversion of wood to liquid fuel becomes available, then wood could become priced globally, similar to oil.

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The next two presentations related directly to energy generation and utilisation in BC, by Richard Marchant, director, power acquisitions, BC Hydro and Dennis Fitzgerald, director of energy, Catalyst Paper. Their presentations covered two halves of this picture -supply and usage. BC Hydro has forecasted a gap between supply and demand, so they have taken a number of measures to close that expected gap. These initiatives include encouraging conservation measures from their customers, purchasing power from independent power producers and building new power sources. BC Hydro also provides training courses (as shown by the two courses presented at PacWest) and helps fund energy conservation managers at major power customers. One predominant program is a stepped rate for larger users, lower for the first 90% of historical usage, but much higher for the top 10% of usage. This has encouraged these large power users to cut their usage in order to stay below their historical 90% usage.

Additionally, Catalyst is planning to be energy self-sufficient by 2016. Approximately 50% of their self-sufficiency will be from conservation measures, with additional power from run-of- river, wind, geothermal and similar projects. All new power generation must have zero greenhouse gas emissions. For political reasons, nuclear power cannot be considered in B. C.

Walter Matsovic, chief forester for Canfor, switched gears to discuss the current Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) epidemic. This has been a devastating infestation for the province, affecting about 13 million hectares. However, the beetle is a natural, endemic pest for the affected areas, normally attacking over-mature Lodgepole pine. There are several factors promoting the epidemic, such as fire suppression, which prevents the natural loss of old pine forests and warmer winters, and allows for greater survival of the beetle. Although pure stands of Lodgepole pine have been hit the hardest, the large population of MPB has caused the beetles to move to younger trees and related species. Fewer larvae survive to the mature beetle stage from these non-ideal hosts and as the pure stands of Lodgepole are killed off, the infestation will slow. There are already signs of this effect, and foresters are responding by replanting mixed stands of species to further deter the spread of the MPB.

Graeme Rodden of RISI provided a broad overview of the changes in global capacity, with the effects of changes in production capacities around the world. Much of the capacity growth is in China and India, with China moving to become an exporter.

The rest of the conference maintained the high standards set by the opening forum, covering all aspects of pulp production. FPInnovations contributed a total of nine papers on a variety of topics, with a further seven coming from various mills. Many of these papers may be presented later, at larger conferences. Although a regional conference, PacWest is successfully innovating to keep the interest of their attendees high by presenting top quality papers. Next year, the conference moves to Sun Peaks, just north of Kamloops B. C. -it will likely be yet another great conference in another beautiful location.

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