EDMONTON/CNW/ – Alberta is home to the first commercial-scale plant in Canada to extract a natural substance in trees called lignin for the development of sustainable new value-added products.
West Fraser, a diversified forest products company with operations across Western Canada, has built the new plant at its pulp mill in Hinton, Alta.
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 provincial portion was leveraged with investments from West Fraser and federal government sources.
AI Bio’s funding agreement with West Fraser includes a provision for the company to contribute $1.5 million into a “lignin research fund.”
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.
Examples of other potential applications include green chemicals (bio alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals), thermoplastic composites (advanced mouldable materials), and packaging.
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.
“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 CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere,” he said.
Lignin is the natural compound in trees that gives wood its strength. It is 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” (byproduct from the pulping operation, consisting of lignin and spent chemicals) as a fuel source for the mill.
West Fraser will divert a portion of the black liquor and extract high-purity lignin using a proprietary process. The Hinton facility is the first commercial-scale implementation of this new technology.
Initially, West Fraser plans to market lignin as a natural replacement for certain components of phenol-formaldehyde, a synthetic resin that is widely used as an adhesive in engineered wood products, such as plywood, oriented strandboard and laminated veneer lumber.
West Fraser is a diversified wood products company producing lumber, LVL, MDF, plywood, pulp, newsprint, wood chips and energy with facilities in Western Canada and the southern United States.