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PacWest: Lessons learned from bioproducts


June 10, 2016
By Cindy Macdonald


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Various experts speaking at the PacWest conference on June 9 noted that a commodity product approach won’t work for the Canadian pulp and paper industry as it develops bioproducts.

The general conclusion is that the development of bioproducts requires leaders that understand the philosophical differences of a higher-value product that needs lots of market development.

“We need people that want to make a difference, that want to change the industry,” said Eric Ashby of Domtar.

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Domtar is a partner in CelluForce, which established a demonstration plant to produce cellulose nanocrystals a few years ago. “We learned that the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy is a mistake,” he commented.

Rod Albers of West Fraser spoke of his company’s investments in bioproducts, which include organic rankine cycle engines to produce electricity at sawmills, a biogas plant at Slave Lake Pulp, and lignin recovery at Hinton Pulp.

Albers cautioned the audience that bioproducts opportunities are generally high-risk propositions, and that about $100 million would be needed to develop a product.

The good news is that some wood-based bioproducts are starting to make commercial inroads. Jean Hamel of FPInnovations said, “You have to dig deep, but there are applications.”

He pointed to BioAmber and Comet Resources in southwestern Ontario as an example of a supply chain that developed to support a bioproduct, this one based on celluslosic sugar from corn. For wood-based bioproducts, he said, the industry needs to think about the structure and connections necessary to develop a supply chain. “In the world of biochemicals, you’re not going to control the whole supply chain,” he told the pulp and paper audience.

For some wood-based bioproducts, there won’t be enough of a market to absorb all that Canadian mills could produce, but when it comes to cellulosic biofuels, “we will be just a drop in the bucket,” Hamel predicted.

“The industry is transforming, right now, around the world,” he concluded.