Photo courtesy Paper Excellence

SASKATOON, PRINCE ALBERT – In early September, the provincial government made a string of announcements regarding forestry resource allocations and, most significantly, the restart of the Prince Albert pulp mill.

The company behind that last announcement is Paper Excellence, and they were a last minute addition to the Saskatchewan Industrial and Mining Suppliers Association (SIMSA) Energy Forum on Oct. 6.

What does a forestry company have to do with an energy forum, you might ask? Paper Excellence is going to be generating its own power, and feeding the surplus to the grid.

Carlo Del Monte of Paper Excellence spoke to the conference via Microsoft Teams, as the conference had to move online due to issues regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Paper Excellence is actually a relatively young company. We have locations primarily in Canada, however we do have mills in France and Brazil as well,” Del Monte said.

“We have seven manufacturing facilities in Canada, going from coast to coast. We have 2.8 million tonnes of production and $2.4 billion in annual sales.

“Most of our production is in what we call ‘market pulp.’ To this is our feedstock. That’s what is used in the production of printing paper, tissue towel and board.

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“The elevator pitch for our product is northern wood fibers are quite a strong wood fiber, and paper makers around the world will use that and blend it with lower-cost hardwood fibers, to create their products. Really, what we’re selling is a renewable reinforcing product.

He continued, “In addition, we do also produce printing and packaging and specialty papers, primarily in our mills in British Columbia. Our headquarters are in Richmond, B.C.”

He said they contribute $3.7 billion to the Canadian economy per year. It’s a company that has grown primarily by acquisition.

In Saskatchewan, they have the mill at Meadow Lake which produces mechanical pulp, with 190 full-time employees and $400 million in economic contribution.

“I think one of the things we’re very proud of is the unique partnership with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council and Mystic Management on the fiber supply, and the wood going into the mill, with very strong Indigenous partnership and management.”

Residual business

“The pulp business is effectively a residual business, in that the highest and best use for harvested wood is dimensional lumber. That creates the highest value. It sequesters carbon for the longest time. However, when you take a tree and mill it, you get about 50 per cent of that volume as dimensional lumber, and the rest of it is chips. So we take those chips and turn them into pulp, which can go into products. In addition, during harvesting, there are a number of trees a sawmiller can’t do anything with, be it due to rot, or shape or size or what have you. And we will also chip those whole.”

He said an integrated forest economy needs both milling and pulp production, and they’re very symbiotic.

Graphic courtesy Paper Excellence

Timeline

As for the mill at Prince Albert, he said it started up in 1968, and then in 1981, was taken over by the Government of Saskatchewan. Weyerhauser came in in 1986 and purchased the mill, built and started up the paper machine a few years later. In 1992, Meadow Lake mechanical pulp started up. Then in 2006, the Prince Albert mill shut down. Domtar entered the scene in 2007 and purchased the mill, but it remained down. “Paper Excellence came in and purchased the Prince Albert mill, and really, the plan at that time was to make dissolving pulp,” Del Monte said.

That’s more of a chemical feedstock, and goes into the production of rayon, as opposed to paper. But in 2014, China imposed duties on the importation of that product from Canada. “And that basically killed the project,” Del Monte said.

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In 2021, a non-compete clause on the production of pulp for paper grades expired. “We confirmed our fiber allocation from the Government of Saskatchewan, and so now we can continue our engineering work,” he said. “Right now, we’re looking at our next phase. Our next major milestone is securing our environmental permits, and we are in discussions with the Ministry of Environment.”

He said their commitment to government is to start construction by the second quarter of 2022, with a goal of making saleable pulp by the end of 2023.

The company is looking at 220 to 250 direct mill jobs at the site. “But the real big employment is really the indirect, and induced, employment,” Del Monte said, “And a lot of that really comes from the fiber supply, both in terms of harvesting and trucking.”

Graphic courtesy Paper Excellence

Partnerships and suppliers

“What we’ve learned, as an industry, is our business relies on being on the landbase, and therefore, Indigenous partnerships are critical to our success.”

When the mills is operating they’re going to need key inputs like commodity chemicals. They use a lot of oxygen, for instance. Other chemicals are used for bleaching the pulp. Another process is caustic. They use sodium hydroxide, chlorine dioxide, lime rock and quick lime, all material that’s trucked or railed in.

Specialty chemicals are brought in on totes.

Del Monte said, “In terms of energy, we burn natural gas in our kiln, and maybe some propane for igniters and such. On the electricity side, our design will be a net exporter of electricity. So we will be generating more electricity than we will consume at the plant.

“The overall load will be in the order of 30 to 35 megawatts, and we will produce on the order of 50 to 60 megawatts, basically through the incineration of biomass on the site and then through steam turbines. Some of that steam will get extracted for processes.

He noted on the maintenance services side, they will run pressure vessels, and boilers, so they will need boiler inspection and repairs. Non-destructive testing will also be required. The lime kilns require brick and refractory work.

There will be a need for heavy duty equipment at the yard. Electric motor rebuilds will be common, as will the need for vacuum truck and high-pressure cleaning.

It will be a 24/7 operation, with a planned outage usually in April, during breakup.

 

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