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Rebuilding for the future: Modernization projects at Catalyst Crofton Mill

October 30, 2023  By Jack Kazmierski

Several parts of the mill are visible here. Left to right: Number Three recovery boiler which recovers spent chemical used in the digester process; the evaporators/concentrators which are part of the black liquor process; and the digester where the wood chips are broken down with chemicals. Photo: Paper Excellence

In October 2022 Paper Excellence announced the “indefinite curtailment” of its paper operations at the Catalyst Crofton facility in British Columbia, starting in early December 2022.

Part of the problem is the fact that the paper products the Crofton facility was producing are no longer in demand. “Crofton is an integrated pulp and paper facility, and this mill had a long history of producing newsprint and telephone directories, primarily,” explains Krista Cuddy, deputy general manager at Paper Excellence Canada. The simple fact is that everything has gone online. That’s why Crofton needed to move on from these traditional paper products.

However, in January 2023 Crofton got a new lease on life as Paper Excellence announced an investment of almost $50 million to both upgrade operations, as well as to reduce the facility’s carbon footprint. The Government of Canada contributed $14.3 million through Natural Resources Canada’s Investments in Forest Industry Transformation program, and the Government of British Columbia contributed $4.5 million in provincial funds.


The green light

With the investment announced and funding approved, the Crofton team had the green light to jump into this upgrade project and to speed up the transition process they had already started pursuing.

“We began by ordering some of the biggest and longest-lead-delivery items, getting those on order, and on their way,” explains Ryan Russell, project manager, Paper Excellence Canada. “Those have significant delivery lead times, with the bulk of the items not arriving until the spring of 2024.”

If everything arrives on time, Russel says his team is planning to begin the installation process in the latter half of 2024. “Once everything arrives, we still need to coordinate a suitable shutdown window and adequate notice and planning to have the resources to do the installation,” he adds. “So at the moment, we’re planning the installation for the fall of 2024.”

In the meantime, Russel and his team are working on all the other details. “We’ve got some initial engineering wrapping up at this point,” he says, “and then we’ll transition into extensive and detailed engineering through to the later part of this year. Then we start ordering the rest of our construction materials, which are going to have significant delivery times, given our current global [supply] situation.”

Significant upgrades

Although the Catalyst Crofton facility team isn’t willing to share details about the equipment they purchased and the modifications they’re making, Cuddy was able to share a few details with Pulp & Paper Canada.

“We’re rebuilding the forming section,” she says. “We’re working with our equipment vendor to supply some new gear, but we are reutilizing whatever we can.”

With future-proofing the facility in mind, Cuddy says the company is modernizing and investing in new technologies. “Our intention is to provide a sustainable paper product that can replace single-use plastics,” she adds. “These have a lot of applications – in food packaging, particularly, where there might be wet or moist products. So, we’re modifying the paper equipment to allow us to incorporate some things that improve its strength when it’s wet.”

This process, however, comes with certain challenges that Cuddy says require further investment in new equipment. In other words, making paper products moisture-resistant, “creates some challenges in terms of reprocessing any of the waste, and so we’re going to be installing some equipment that is relatively new in Canada, but in high use in Europe, to allow us to reprocess waste that contains wet strength material.”

The upgrades to the mill will also allow for the production of new specialty papers. “Newsprint machines are designed to make a certain basis weight,” Cuddy explains. “Traditionally, a newsprint machine was designed to make 48.8 grams per square metre. So this [upgrade], when you think of shopping bags as an example, which are upwards of 110 grams per square metre, you can’t necessarily do that with a traditional printing and writing paper machine. That’s double the thickness, or double the weight of newsprint sheets. And so part of this project is going to allow us to make papers in that higher weight, as well as meet the quality specifications, which are very different for these specialty papers or craft papers. The modifications and the gear we’re going to put in is going to allow us to achieve those specifications.”

Cuddy explains that the new equipment will allow the facility to produce products for North American food and industrial markets, including takeout bags and food wrap. Padded envelopes, along with other products, are also in the plans.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Crofton is also investing in equipment that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “We pay a tax on all the natural gas and fuel oil we consume on site, which certainly reduces our competitiveness out in the market,” Cuddy explains.

The simple solution is biomass fuel, which is readily available at the mill as a byproduct of the forestry industry. Part of the new investment is going to improve the preconditioning of the biomass fuel, drying it so that it can be burned in the boiler. “This will allow us to actually increase the consumption of biomass fuel, as well as offset our natural gas use,” Cuddy says. “So we’ll be able to generate the same amount of steam but with biomass.”

Although bark presses are common, and routinely used to squeeze the water out of the biomass fuel before it’s burned, Cuddy says that they’re working with a supplier who has newer technology that is more efficient and effective at removing the water. “So we’re replacing the existing system we have with new [biomass] presses,” she adds.

Future proofing

Cuddy says that all these upgrades are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to changes and projects that are on the go at Crofton, with the goal of staying competitive and viable for many years to come.

“We’ve got other projects on the go,” she adds, “focusing on allowing us to support the decarbonization efforts here on site. We’re looking at improving our steam utilization so that we don’t have to generate as much steam, which will reduce our natural gas consumption and significantly improve our competitiveness. And although we can’t go into details at the moment, we’re also looking at our number three paper machine, and how we can repurpose it to produce a different product. This is all part of our long-term vision.”

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