West Fraser, a diversified forest products company with operations across Western Canada, has built the new 30 T/day commercial demonstration plant at its pulp mill in Hinton, Alberta. The aim: to displace petrochemical equivalents by lignin.
Lignin is the natural compound in trees that gives wood its strength. It is a natural polyol – and one of the most abundant organic polymers on Earth. Scientists worldwide have been researching potential value-added uses for this renewable biomass and how to extract it economically.
Pulp mills usually burn the “black liquor” – the byproduct from the pulping operation, consisting of lignin and spent chemicals – as a fuel source for the mill. At West Fraser, the aim, by contrast, is to recover lignin from the pulping operation. To do so, a proprietary process developed in Canada with FPInnovations and NORAM Engineering, called the LignoForce System, will be used. The Hinton facility is the first commercial-scale implementation of this new technology.
The $30-million plant – made possible through joint funding by industry and government – began production in March. Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions (AI Bio) awarded West Fraser a $3-million innovation grant. The funding agreement included a provision for the company to contribute $1.5 million into a “lignin research fund.” The provincial portion was leveraged with investments from West Fraser and federal government sources, including Natural Resources Canada and Sustainable Development Technology Canada.
West Fraser will develop the use of lignin as a natural adhesive in its engineered wood products – as a renewable substitute for certain synthetic resin components currently derived from fossil fuels. Speaking at the International Conference for Biobased Materials in Cologne yesterday, Dr. Eddie Peace said the replacing the phenol formaldehyde resins in its plywood is the company’s near-term goal – “and giving the quickest return”.
Other applications -green chemicals (bio alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals), thermoplastic composites (advanced mouldable materials), and packaging – will follow.
Ted Seraphim, president and CEO of West Fraser, said the company recognizes the strategic importance of continuing to develop the company in a manner that fully utilizes the forest resource. West Fraser has been at the forefront in bioenergy and bioproduct development in Western Canada and the lignin project is the next step.
“Lignin is an opportunity to expand our product line and recover the maximum value from our fibre and our manufacturing process,” Seraphim said. “This technology has the potential to be a new product offering for all pulp mills in Canada. In addition, it is a sustainable choice. Every tonne of lignin substituted in phenol-formaldehyde resin prevents a tonne of CO(2) emissions from entering the atmosphere,” he said.