Bio-mass boiler touted as boon to area

FORT FRANCES—Will the Fort Frances mill get the bio-mass boiler or not?
Mill workers and area residents alike will find out the answer to that question very shortly as 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.
And with it will come not only long-term viability for the paper mill here, but benefits to the local economy, regional manager Doug Murray said at a pair of open houses on Thursday at the Adventure Inn here.
“There’s going to be huge spin-off to the economy,” he remarked. “It’s going to be a whole new industry.”
Murray said the bio-mass boiler not only is expected to help keep the 650 mill employees, and some 350 forestry ones, on the job, but lead to more employment for the region, whether it’s new jobs at the mill here, more forestry jobs, or more jobs at sawmills supplying chip and bark for the boiler.
For instance, the mill is expecting 40 or more extra trucks hauling boiler fuel to town each day once the bio-mass boiler is operational—meaning more truck drivers will be needed.
But first, funding for the project has to be approved by the Abitibi board of directors.
Manager John Harrison stressed why the bio-mass boiler is crucial to the long-term viability of the local mill.
“The pulp and paper-making processes are very energy intensive. So, two major drivers of our mill’s costs are steam and electricity,” he noted.
“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 explained. “[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,” said Harrison.
If 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.
If Abitibi’s board approves the project, boiler components will be ordered from a vendor and an engineer hired this spring, with the final approval of property rezoning going before the Ministry of Housing and Municipal Affairs 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 would be situated at the south end of Portage Avenue, across from the jail. Portage Avenue—from Nelson to Sinclair—would be closed off.
The boiler building will look roughly like the present 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.
When asked about pollution and noise produced by the boiler, Harrison noted the bio-mass boiler should produce “minimal noise” and is expected to fall well within Ministry of Environmental guidelines as far as emissions go.
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 in early January.
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.