Clad in safety vests and hard hats, the mayor, a councillor and senior staff recently toured Pinnacle Pellet in Williams Lake.
One of the first questions asked was where does the smoke come from?
“That’s the question that everyone asks,” said plant manager Ron Myhre during the tour. “It’s basically steam and small fine particulates from the drying process.”
About 90 per cent of the steam is water vapour drying out of the fibre used to make the pellets.
Depending on how hot the drier is, if there are particulates in there that are small and too dry, they will actually burn and you’ll see a small flash, said Lorne Davies, director of safety environment.
“Because the particulates are so small, when they show up in the sunlight sometimes they will be blue. That gives you what we call smoke. It’s actually like the drier exhaust you see coming out of your house,” Davies said.
When the fibre is pushed through the die to make the pellets it is compressed about nine times, he explained.
“As a result of that pressure we actually crush the wood cells, but there is nothing added to the fibre, no glue, no chemicals, nothing.”
The company measures its emissions through stack tests conducted every quarter.
“The first half of the test is everything that gets caught in the filter and the second half is the very small stuff, like the particulates,” Myhre said.
Emissions also pass through a large bag house, similar to a vacuum cleaner, before they go out into the air, he added.
Coun. Surinderpal Rathor said the city receives more smoke complaints about Pinnacle Pellet than any other industry in Williams Lake, but said those complaints have lessened in the last couple of years.
Myrhe responded that a number of changes have been made to clean up the plant, including installing a large fence to keep fugitive dust contained.
“We’re also working on getting a hood to attach to the end of our tipper this year and we’re also looking at another compound to store fibre,” he said.
Pinnacle has planted some trees on site to act as a filter, and is hoping to install more sprinkling systems and pave more areas.
“Depending on the day and the weather, we sometimes see the valley filled with smoke,” Rathor said. “What precautions can you take to eliminate more smoke?” he asked.
Myrhe said presently engineering is underway to build a stack that is 40 metres taller or twice the height of the existing one.
He did not want to give a hard date for the new stack, but said Pinnacle has been working on the plans since last fall.
“The stack has been made, we’re just waiting for the foundation plans to be completed, and then we will come to the city with a full plan that you guys can see,” Myrhe said.
The plant runs between five to six loaded rail cars a day, three per shift, or 600 metric tons.
It takes 30 B-train loads a day to maintain production, seven days a week, with fibre coming from 11 mills throughout the region, six in the Williams Lake area.
The plant in Williams Lake produces 200,000 metric tons of pellets a year which represents a sixth of the company’s entire output from all of its plants.
In 2004, the plant was developed in Williams Lake predominantly to serve the overseas market in Western Europe’s big utility companies.
“At the time it was considered a pioneering effort,” said Pinnacle’s vice president of business development Craig Lodge.
“Unlike Canada, Europe doesn’t have an abundance of fossil fuels so a lot of European companies who were using coal but wanting to gain some environmental improvements started experimenting with firing wood pellets.”
Less than five per cent of Pinnacle’s overall market goes to homes through what’s called the “bag market.”
Representatives from those markets also come and inspect the site in Williams Lake regularly to make sure the company is meeting corporate goals.
Mayor Kerry Cook said the tour was initiated by Myrhe.
“I had met with him a month or so ago,” Cook recalled. “I thought the tour was very informative. It was good to see new capital improvements in place.”
Cook also said Pinnacle Pellet will appear as a delegation to city council in the fall.