Blazing a new trail for the forestry industry

- Pontiac, Quebec

Rocher à l'Oiseau
Courtesy of Pontiac Regional County Municipality

County in Western Quebec aims to meet the growing demand for bio-based energy and chemicals

Research completed by the National Research Council (NRC) in collaboration with Natural Ressources Canada (NRCan) aims to unlock new potential from an age-old resource: trees. The research focuses on using techno-economic analysis (TEA) and life cycle analysis (LCA) tools to determine the feasibility of converting forest waste into value-added products and energy. Requesting the NRC's assistance in finding a solution, the Regional County Municipality of Pontiac (MRC Pontiac) in Quebec was eager to find uses for its abundance of pulpwood left behind when the last pulp -and -paper mill closed in 2008.

For more than a century, the forestry industry was a mainstay of the local economy in the County of Pontiac, across the Ottawa River from Canada's national capital. In recent years, however, the pulp and paper industry declined significantly, leaving behind wood waste and vast forests; two resources that could now potentially support the emerging industries of bio-based energy and bio-based chemicals in the area. If the MRC Pontiac's vision is successful, its communities could see substantial economic and social benefits.

Making the most of existing resources

Abundant raw materials, vacant mills and mature technological processes are all key factors that position the region for success. Not only is pellet fuel from wood residues in strong demand on the world market, but so are the two organic compounds found in wood, cellulose and lignin, because both can be converted into a variety of valuable products. To tap into the markets for bio-based energy and chemicals successfully will require highly efficient wood-transformation processes. It will also require an effective business model that addresses issues related to everything from supply and distribution chains to environmental impacts.

A key project for the future

Since forestry resources are of primary importance in the Pontiac region and have always been part of its socio-economic profile, MRC leaders naturally identified a development opportunity to implement Pontiac's strategy to:

  • enhance the region's competitiveness
  • harmonize the use of forestry resources with sustainable development principles and government orientations, both federal and provincial
  • highlight the importance of the forest while promoting the expertise of the workforce in the Pontiac

This development strategy resulted in an initial concrete project whose broad orientations were inspired by sustainable development and innovation: the Biomass Conversion Centre (CVB).

The CVB project, which aims to restart the Pontiac economy in a sustainable manner, create quality jobs, and generate direct and indirect spin-offs in a sector with abundant forestry resources, not only meets the needs and expectations expressed by local stakeholders, but also those of the government of Quebec.

Creating collaborations

Spearheading the effort to create a Biomass Conversion Centre in the heart of Pontiac County through partnerships with private companies, government agencies such as the NRC, NRCan and municipal and federal governments, is Fibre Pontiac, a non- profit organization.

An important first step towards this goal was to conduct a preliminary TEA study in order to understand Pontiac's situation. In a joint effort by the NRC and NRCan, the TEA was completed in 2017, encompassing the following topics:

  • evaluation of potential wood deconstruction technologies
  • calculation of the mass and energy balance of the proposed integrated biorefinery
  • calculation of the delivered cost of sugar, pellet fuel and other products such as lignin and cellulose
  • evaluation of the greenhouse gas emissions for each product

As a result of this report, Fibre Pontiac plans to complete a detailed cost analysis for an integrated bio-refinery plant that would include pelletization, extractive yard, and combined heat-and-power units. Fibre Pontiac envisions the CVB as an advanced bio-refinery that is highly efficient, economically feasible, and environmentally sustainable.

"The NRC's scientific expertise in Ottawa and at CanmetENERGY in Varennes, in the area of processing wood fibre into high-value-added bioproducts, has made it possible to focus on future products for industrial and consumer use," says Fibre Pontiac President Pierre Vézina. "In Canada, within those two agencies, we have scientists who help place us in the top ranks when it comes to discovering and developing bioproducts that are in demand worldwide".

NRC research could influence the future of Canada's bio-economy

The outcome of this analysis is expected to have a significant influence, not only on the future of the CVB, but also on the evolution of bio-based industries across Canada, particularly in regions with reliable access to long-term supplies of wood biomass, because it highlights the design of an effective operations model, which might include lumber milling, production of bio-chemicals and pellet fuel, and a combined heat and power unit.

"Following a preliminary screening of different options to convert available wood biomass, the multidisciplinary team has first identified a sustainable commercial pathway," says Farid Bensebaa, R&D Director (acting) of the NRC's Energy, Mining and Environment Research Centre. "Then, using both economic and environmental criteria, we have compared the best available wood deconstruction technologies spanning medium to high technology readiness levels."

The outcome of the TEA is also expected to influence federal policy on the bio-economy by providing decision makers with specific technical, economic and environmental information. Its wide array of capabilities in diverse research disciplines provides the NRC with the technical expertise and facilities needed to conduct this type of evaluation. The NRC has a large, multidisciplinary team and network of engineers, biologists, and chemists who specialize in the bioconversion of organic residues to value- added products, and in process instrumentation and control. The NRC collaborates with clients and municipalities to design and evaluate customized solutions and optimize operations.

When MRC Pontiac officials began their work in 2015 they did not anticipate the magnitude or the impact that their project would have. The Fibre Pontiac partnership, with continued support from the NRC and NRCan, could help propel the success of an emerging sector and generate valuable new opportunities for communities across the nation that are struggling with the decline of the forestry industry.

The next phase of the project, which will include a pilot demonstration of the biorefinery and the production of control samples for potential products, is under development.

Contact us

To learn more:

Farid Bensebaa, R&D Director (acting)
Energy, Mining and Environment Research Centre
Telephone: 613-991-6347