Bio-mass boiler decision coming soon

FORT FRANCES—Mill management and staff, as well as residents of Fort Frances, will find out soon whether or not the proposed bio-mass boiler will become a reality here.
The proposal will go before Abitibi-Consolidated’s board of directors for approval March 6.
If the $84.3-million project is approved, work will begin almost immediately, with the new boiler targeted to be up and running by October, 2008.
Mill manager John Harrison and regional manager Doug Murray revealed this and other information regarding the project—touted as crucial to the long-term viability of the local mill—at a pair of open houses on Thursday at the Adventure Inn here.
“The pulp and paper-making processes are very energy intensive. So, two major drivers of our mill’s costs are steam and electricity,” said Harrison, explaining the rationale behind the proposed bio-mass boiler project.
“As it is currently configured, the paper mill gets all its steam from the co-gen plant with natural gas as the fuel supply,” he noted. “[But] natural gas in North America has doubled in cost in the past six years, doubling our steam cost.
“Building the bio-mass boiler will allow us to generate this steam from a cheaper renewable fuel source [wood residues], without reliance on natural gas,” he added.
“That cheaper steam can also be used to generate less expensive electricity in our steam turbine.
“These two impacts combined will significantly reduce our costs and make us competitive in the industry,” noted Harrison.
Once the bio-mass boiler comes on line, however, the resulting energy savings will make the local mill Abitibi’s lowest cost producers of glossy and high bright grades.
As mentioned above, the boiler proposal will go before Abitibi’s board of directors March 6. If approved, boiler components will be ordered from a vendor and an engineer hired this spring, with the final approval of property rezoning going before town council in June.
As soon as that happens, construction of the foundation will begin.
The steel framework of the bio-mass boiler building will get underway in September, in anticipation of the boiler parts arriving in March, 2008 (there will be no winter construction on the site).
This will be followed by an intense period of construction of the boiler, with a completion date of October, 2008.
The bio-mass boiler building will be situated at the south end of Portage Avenue, across from the jail. Portage Avenue, from Nelson to Sinclair, will be closed off.
The boiler building will look roughly like the recovery building, standing about 120 feet high, while the boiler itself will be about 26 feet deep and 34 feet wide.
Trucks will haul fuel to the wood yard, where it will be loaded onto a conveyor system running to the bio-mass boiler. There, it will be burned, releasing heat and, in turn, steam, which goes to a steam turbine generating electricity.
The only waste product will be ash, which will be hauled away to the landfill.
As the name implies, the bio-mass boiler will run on wood waste, including harvest slash, bark, sawdust, and sludge.
While some of the fuel, such as sludge, will come from the mill, the majority of the fuels will be hauled in from area woodlands or sawmills.
Other possible fuels, like straw pellets or bales, also may be considered in the future. Murray noted the fuel value from agricultural products is as high as it is from wood waste.
The bio-mass boiler will burn 1,000 dry tonnes of fuel per day, but the ability to supply this has been accounted for in the proposal.
“We’re confident the fuel supply will be there for us,” said Harrison.
Not only is the success of the bio-mass boiler proposal “the real key to keep the mill viable here in Fort Frances,” said Harrison, but also is the key to a tentative agreement struck between the four local mill unions and the company last month.
The unions agreed to a contract extension to give the company some long-term labour stability in exchange for a guarantee it would build and operate a new bio-mass boiler here.