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Simplified Process Engineering Perspective of the Forest Biorefinery

What should companies be doing now in order to improve their competitive position in the shorter term and prepare for implementing the forest biorefinery?


February 1, 2007
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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What should companies be doing now in order to improve their competitive position in the shorter term and prepare for implementing the forest biorefinery?

Plan the transformation to the forest biorefinery.

Implementing the forest biorefinery will involve manufacturing products in addition to pulp and paper which have distinct supply chains, product quality requirements, and customer lists. Transforming pulp and paper mills into forest biorefineries will require a pervasive company culture change, a holistic vision and support from the company leadership, and the necessary planning to enable Enterprise Transformation including for example a) supply chain restructuring, negotiating just-in-time relationships, and developing collaborative information systems, b) outsourcing and contracting out, c) process standardization, d) process re-engineering, e.g., identification, design, and deployment of value-driven processes; identification and elimination of non-value creating activities, and e) web-enabled processes, self-support systems for customer relationship management, inventory management, etc.

Companies considering the forest biorefinery need to define the considerable challenges and create a roadmap for its gradual implementation.

Implement the necessary knowledge-based systems.

The objective of the biorefinery strategy would substantially modify the core business of the industry, into one which manufactures a diverse set of products including pulp and paper. This will add significant complexity to manufacturing operations, and complex mill-wide decision-making will be required in order to manage markets and maximize margins.

Is this a challenge? Yes.

Is this critical to successfully transforming the pulp and paper industry? Yes again.

Transforming to a flexible and knowledge-based industry located close to the large U.S. or other marketplaces is critical for success of the Canadian biorefinery.

The government wants to support this transformation to the forest biorefinery, but there is much work to be done. On the one hand the forest industry has to become a national priority supported by governmental initiative. Forestry clusters need to be defined including services and manufactured equipment in the context of Canada’s strengths. On the other hand, most pulp and paper mills have cost and process data management systems in place, but need to make better use of the data for faster and smarter decision-making. In a biorefinery making pulp and paper products as well as organic chemicals, punctual plant-wide decision-making will be critical to schedule product, meet product quality requirements, and respond to varying feedstock and product price fluctuations within the constraints of the process. Pulp and paper companies need to work harder today towards implementing knowledge-based decision-making systems so that plant-wide decision-making is more feasible when the biorefinery has been implemented.

Explore product opportunities

There are a number of product opportunities available to mills considering implementation of the forest biorefinery. For example, there are well-known opportunities linked to current government policy in Canada and the U.S. related to biorenewables in transportation fuels (including bioethanol and biodiesel), but there are also other drivers. Should pulp and paper companies buy local specialty chemical manufacturers, and replace petrochemicals with green specialty chemicals? Should pulp and paper companies forge links with energy companies and manufacture biofuels? By employing systematic product design methodologies including such tools as SWOT analysis, competitive analysis, market analysis, etc., companies can identify some key opportunities augmenting the company value as a whole, or individual mills. Biorefinery opportunities and their capital investment requirements are large in number and scope, and companies that identify imaginative possibilities early can move forward with exploring opportunities for joint ventures with other companies, securing feedstock, etc.

Identify sources of forest carbon, and focus on energy efficiency

Energy benchmarking and advanced thermal pinch analysis techniques are being developed which can identify long-term plans for energy and water use reduction, accounting for mill-wide energy strategies and cogeneration, and that examine how to best implement emerging energy technologies. Using these analysis techniques, Canadian pulp and paper mills can benefit tremendously in the short term by reducing their dependency on fossil fuels and power from the electrical grid. The forest biorefinery now provides a new important incentive for these analyses: biorefinery markets and economic processes depend to some extent on throughput economies of scale, and energy efficiency programs will make significantly more carbon available for the biorefinery. Forward-looking mills should be developing their long-term energy plan, and increasing their yearly budgets for energy efficiency projects. The mills best able to implement the forest biorefinery will be those who have characterized their energy usage, conducted mill-wide energy and water use reduction plans, and implemented energy savings in order to make carbon available for biorefinery products.

…and oh yes, companies considering the biorefinery should attend the four biorefinery sessions to be held during this year’s PaperWeek International in Montreal!


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