Halted particleboard plant working toward pellet conversion

By Katie Fletcher | September 01, 2015

Next week, a full consultation report for the conversion of Northern Engineered Wood Products’ particleboard facility to a wood pellet plant in Smithers, British Columbia, is expected to be submitted to the Ministry of Environment.

Last year, NEWPRO proposed to repurpose its facility as a wood pellet manufacturing plant, and SLR Consulting (Canada) Ltd, a multidisciplinary environmental consulting firm, is preparing the technical assessment report as part of the amended discharge permit application under the Environmental Management Act from the B.C. MOE. SLR Consulting has already completed an initial report to demonstrate the benefits of a pellet conversion. The group has examined the existing infrastructure, what is going to be the best achievable technology, as well as modeling outputs. Additional reporting summarizes the project and the feedback received since the project has been presented to the public.

The ministry is expected to start its review of the report at the end of September, according to Rebecca Martin, senior project professional and environmental scientist with SLR Consulting. “They said it should be turned around within a month after they start review, so sometime in October we expect to have a decision,” she said.

Production at the particleboard plant halted in January of 2014 due to market demand and a variety of other factors. NEWPRO had full intentions to start production up as a particleboard plant after waiting to see if the market would change, and is fully authorized to do so, but pellets became an option. “Pellets was a natural step for us,” said Dave Jacobs, vice president with NEWPRO. “Much of the material handling from the old particleboard plant we can use in the pellet facility.”

Jacobs adds that by going to pellets it will make a difference in the whole valley. “We’ll use the same amount of material we would normally use by the sawmill next door, but we’ll be going to the bush to gather more material,” he said. “Instead of that material being burned up every fall, some of it will be coming to our facility to be made into pellets. It’s sort of a win-win for the air quality in the valley.”

The project is estimated to bring a 94-percent decrease in total particulate matter (PM), from 432 metric tons per year down to an extremely conservative 26 metric tons per year.

The plan is to install a Stela-belt dryer. Currently, the ministry allows rotary dryers in B.C. a loading of 100 milligrams (mg) per cubic meter of air flow. In a comprised air shed, such as the one in Smithers, 60 mg per cubic meter is preferred. The project modeling shows that 16.7 mg per cubic meter is the achievable discharge rate on a Stela dryer. “What the Stela can achieve is significantly lower than even the rotary dryer with a wet electrostatic precipitator in place,” Martin said.

According to Martin, a Stela-belt dryer is operational at the Diacarbon pellet plant in Merritt. Pacific Bioenergy in Chetwynd has achieved a permit for a Stella-belt dryer, and it made the application on 15 mg per cubic meter. The Merritt Diacarbon facility has been running tests under the B.C.-sampling requirements set by the ministry. “They’re testing a similar fiber makeup and a similar climate to where we’re operating,” Martin said. “They’re achieving between 8 and 11 mg per cubic meter with maximum input of their throughput dryer, so it’s really efficient.”

Martin added, “We believe 16.7 mg per cubic meter, even with contingency, is highly achievable.”

Martins believes the B.C. MOE will make the Stela-belt dryer, or a similar drying system, the standard requirement for new applications in the province.  “This is the way they want to see all applications going because they just have such a small footprint in comparison to the rotary dryer,” she said. “What our model outputs are showing and what we’ve gotten from Pacific Bioenergy and Diacarbon, they’re all showing that this is a no brainer. Right now, the ministry has set 25 mg per cubic meter as the standard for belt dryers. They may lower that just based on what they are seeing from the initial modeling results. That’s what it is looking will be the wave of the future for the wood pellet manufacturing industry.”

According to Martin, the project has received a letter of unanimous support from the Smithers Town Council, and the ministry doesn’t foresee any reason why this amendment application won’t be approved. “Typically, with an amendment they only require the level of involvement that we’ve had for a 10-percent increase in emissions, but since there will be a 94-percent reduction in emissions there is not much of an argument they can have in this case,” Martin said. “This whole process we are presently going through is because they felt that if we didn’t go through this there was likely going to be an appeal triggered and we’d likely be asked to do this anyway. The thought was that it would be better to do the whole process up front and alleviate anything later.”

The Smithers area has a compromised air shed due, in part, to wood smoke from wood stoves and the burning that occurs during temperature inversions that happen during extremely cold weather in the valley. “If it was in most other places in the province it wouldn’t have probably been an issue, but because of where we are in the valley and the air quality being what it is now already from wood stoves burning, we’ve had to prove we weren’t really going to contribute to that,” Jacobs said. “In fact, the more material we use out of the bush the better we actually make it in the valley than what it was before.”

NEWPRO’s particleboard facility is 80,000 square feet, allowing for the opportunity to create a pellet plant with the potential to grow in capacity. The site has empty bins and all of the pneumatic systems like baghouses and cyclones.

If all goes as planned, commissioning could begin as early as next year. If the amendment permit is received than equipment ordering will begin. Jacobs said a majority of the equipment will require a 12 to 15-week lead time, and the longest lead time will be the technology from Germany, about 5 to 6 months. Currently, Jacobs estimates the pellet conversion to cost around $10 million.

Right now, Jacobs said NEWPRO is looking at producing 80,000 tons of pellets annually, with the possibility of ramping up years down the road. NEWPRO receives 60,000 bone-dry tons from the nearby Pacific Inland Resources sawmill, and an additional 20,000 bone-dry tons will come from the waste piles out in the bush.

If the conversion moves forward, covered storage will be another addition to the facility. Jacobs said NEWPRO plans to make an industrial-type pellet for export from the Westview Terminal in Prince Rupert, but is considering manufacturing some residential pellets after feedback from the town of Smithers.