Time to start thinking beyond the sawlog

The eventual reduction of the cut from 3.4 million to 1.4 million cubic metres per year will have consequences.

The eventual reduction of the cut from 3.4 million to 1.4 million cubic metres per year once the shelf life of pine logs has been reached will mean the decommission of some sawmills and loss of sawmill jobs in the Williams Lake TSA.

Two recent articles in the June-July issue of the Logging and Sawmilling Journal provide some other options to think about. The first article entitled From mothballed to pellet producer describes an option that we should consider if and when some lumber mills may be shut down.

“Rentech Inc. has invested $90 million to convert two mothballed Ontario forest products plants to produce wood pellets using a state of the art stationary flailing and microchipping system from Continental Biomass Industries.”

Two plants (Wawa an Atikokan) have a fiber supply secured by the Ontario government and will consume 880 and 180,000 tons per year respectively for their operations. The Wawa plant will supply Drax Power Limited from the United Kingdom with wood pellets for a 10 year contract. The UK power company is converting three of its six coal fired power plants to burn wood biomass.

The Atikokan plant will supply pellets to the Ontario Power Corporation which is going to replace coal with wood pellets. The plant will start by supplying 45,000 metric tons per year for a 10-year contract with the option of doubling the supply in the future.

The two plants will be in operation this fall after the initial purchases in 2013 and will create 55 full time jobs and 200 associated forestry jobs.

Locally based Canadian companies were contracted for the construction of both plants and the state of the art systems produce a high-quality product with lower operating costs because it eliminates one of the costly steps found in older designs.

The second article was about alternate uses of wood-based polymers in automotive components and alternate packaging products. Alberta Bio Solutions is investing an additional half a million dollars in addition to the 600,000 already invested in polymer research.

Wood polymers have great promise since they are 40 per cent lighter and 50 per cent cheaper than standard E glass fibers. The polymers could also be used for the construction of pallets which can be cleaned up and recycled a number of times.

The Williams lake TSA discussion paper of January 2014 has been focused on the use of fibre for lumber manufacturing with the shelf life of pine being one of the major factors determining when the AAC will be reduced. Since the uplift in 2007 to 3.4 million cubic meters AAC, we have burned a conservative 20 per cent of the sawlog component or 680,000 cubic meters of cull logs or 340,000 metric tons of biomass per year. If we account for the other logging residual bio mass it will be closer to half a million tones per year. Since 2007 if we had been working on a way to stockpile the residual biomass in anticipation of future uses like wood pellets we could have a conservative two million metric tons of biomass that could be used for wood pellets or other biomass products.

My assumption is that the shelf life of fibre for non sawlog use could be decades longer than the sawlog shelf life. This could help mitigate the anticipated AAC reduction after 2022.

The investment in costly ventures like the ones noted above are possible because of a guaranteed fiber supply, in this case by the Ontario government. Our government so far seems to be leaving the research for new markets and supplying of biomass fibre up to the lumber industry. The government could be taking the lead using fibre from B.C. Timber Sales. BCTS is a government controlled operation that accounts for approximately 18 per cent of the provincial AAC.

As discussed previously, the replacement of coal in the production of cement in this province could be one of the many uses for local wood pellets.

The ideal situation would be to have markets identified and biomass plants built over the next few years so that any reduction in the sawlog AAC could be replaced by wood pellets or other bioenergy products.

As the sawlog component declines, the ever increasing residual log component would be used for non sawlog products rather than being burned. This would allow for a more gradual reduction of the AAC, long term market diversity and much less pollution from the cull pile burning.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.


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