Committed to Innovation – the Al-Pac story
For more than two decades, a northern Alberta pulp mill has made a point of seeing the forest for the trees through its innovative delivery of green products.
When the Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. (Al-Pac) mill near Boyle opened its doors in 1993, it joined a new generation of pulp operations designed to meet the highest standards of environmental performance. Many of the products Canadians use daily – from fine-coated paper and packaging board to tissues and towels – are made from the pulp Al-Pac processes and whitens using elemental chlorine-free technology.
But it’s Al-Pac’s approach to clean energy that is ultimately helping the mill to grow beyond the traditional markets of pulp and paper and into a number of emerging areas.
At the mill, located about 150 kilometres north of Edmonton, bark and other waste left over from the pulping process is combusted in boilers, and the resulting steam is used to run three large turbines. The energy generated by these turbines is enough to meet all of the mill’s needs while surplus power is sold to the province’s electrical grid.
Photo courtesy of Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. (AL-Pac)
Geoff Clarke, a corporate planner for Al-Pac, said the mill can generate up to 98 megawatts of electricity every hour – enough to power the facility, as well as 17,000 households each year. Clarke said the savings realized by this steady, renewable source of energy is one of the key reasons the company has been able to branch out and explore the potential of new uses for forest waste.
“We are taking what would normally have been waste and turning it into useful processes,” said Clarke. “We are creating less waste and developing new products and utilities that we would have had to purchase in the past.”
One of those new products is biomethanol. The mill recently installed a purification system for removing sulfur compounds and other contaminants from the methanol that is processed from wood waste during the pulping process. When fully operational, a portion of the resulting biomethanol will be used in the pulp whitening process while the rest will be sold commercially for use in antifreeze, windshield washer, biodiesel and other products. To Clarke’s knowledge, the Boyle plant is the only pulp mill in the world that will be using this technology to produce commercial-grade biomethanol.
The company is also exploring applications for a substance called cellulose nanocrystals (CNC). Made from wood pulp, CNC is biodegradable and lighter and stronger than steel. It has many potential uses and could someday be used in products developed for the medical, automotive, oil and gas, and other sectors.
“We’re constantly assessing new technology and emerging markets and looking at what our pulp mill is capable of producing,” said Clarke. “When we find opportunities that are a good fit for our people, existing infrastructure, forest resources and skilled workforce, then we’re going to be more likely to embrace them.”
The Alberta government encourages innovation and projects that support environmental stewardship. Support from the Alberta and Canada Governments have helped to promote a successful clean energy venture.
“The provincial and federal government policies and support programs have allowed us to take on less risk, proceed with first-of-its-kind projects and get them working at the commercial level,” said Clarke
For more information, visit Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries .