Biomass Conversion Centre moving forward, says Fibre Pontiac

Added: Wed, 10/11/2017 - 11:05pm
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Allyson Beauregard

CAMPBELL’S BAY – Three representatives of Fibre Pontiac, Pierre Vezina, Denis Larivière, and Richard Vaillancourt, delivered a progress report on the Biomass Conversion Centre (BCC) project to the Council of Mayors, October 3.
To date, about $500,000 has been invested in the project, with the MRC Pontiac sharing 49% of the bill, which includes the costs of various studies and Vezina’s (an MRC employee) salary. The provincial government has contributed 21% and the federal 30%.
The BCC project began in 2013, but was only officially announced to the public in August 2015 after many scientific studies indicated it was a viable project. After the MRC determined they could not progress the file further, it was handed over to Fibre Pontiac, a non-profit organization formed earlier this year, to put all the conditions in place to move forward and apply for funding.
The project capitalizes on abundant and un-used pulpwood, which the Pontiac lost a market for when the Portage Mill closed. According to the Fibre Pontiac reps, the BCC will have yearly access to 640,000m2 of wood within a 60 km radius. While Quebec wood will be a priority, the project will also accept Ontario wood, if needed.
According to Vezina, one of the biggest milestones thus far was a meeting that took place September 19 at the US head office of the bio-refinery project developer with potential private investors and representatives from Investissement Quebec’s (IQ) New York office, the National Research Council of Canada, and CanmetENERGIE.  IQ is very open to investing, said Vezina.
“While the BCC project has continued its forward trajectory this past year, this meeting brought us a significant step closer to implementing a bio-refinery on Pontiac soil,” he added.
Bio-refinery at the BCC’s core
A bio-refinery is at the hub of the BCC project. “It’s what will make the wheel go ’round,” said Larivière. The technology for the unit was selected in 2016 while the products to produce were only selected in 2017.
This unit will produce mainly crystalline cellulose (used in food production and vitamin tablets and supplements, among other things) and lignin (used in plastics, adhesives, etc). There is also the potential to produce C-5 and C-6 sugars for the production of biogas and bioethanol. According to Larivière, all
of these products are high in demand and have a high market value.
After the bio-refinery is constructed, the BCC plan also includes adding a pellet mill, a fibre-processing yard, a cogeneration plant to make the BCC energy self-sufficient, a bark extraction unit, and a saw mill.
In its start-up phase, the bio-refinery is expected to create 35-40 jobs, increasing to 55 once it is in full-swing.
Investors still unnamed
According to Durocher, the MRC and Fibre Pontiac are bound by a non-disclosure agreement, which bans naming potential investors and operators. “We’re playing our cards close to our chests. By naming the companies, we would disclose the technology. If other MRCs got word, they could jump on this and may be in a better position to pressure governments,” explained Larivière.
“One peep out of one person and we will lose those investors and this project will leave the Pontiac,” added Durocher. However, it was confirmed there is currently one investor and one developer / investor interested.
In response to a question from Terry Murdock (Thorne), Larivière said there have been no firm commitments or investments made by the two parties, but that they have contributed a lot of time and effort to the project.
The location for the BCC is yet to be confirmed, although there has been talk of either the Pin Davidson or Pontiac Industrial Park sites.
Future steps and timeframe
Between now and the fall of 2018, $2.5 million (mainly from federal and provincial governments) is expected to be invested in a pilot project of the bio-refinery to validate the technology, testing with different species of trees, undertaking market, environmental impact and social acceptance studies and continuing discussions with potential investors and the operator.
Afterwards, the final stage of the project is expected to run until 2021 where 2-3 investment scenarios will be established and the bio-refinery will be constructed and started (total cost of $120 million). Construction is expected to begin around 2019, and the bio-refinery is hoped to be in operation by 2021. However, Larivière
cautioned that delays andsetbacks are possible.
Durocher did not hesitate to say he is very confident that the project will move forward to completion, while the representatives of Fibre Pontiac were more cautious and said it looks promising at the moment.
“There will be a go / no-go decision made at the end of each step, but we are confident that, with the continued support of our upper government and community, this project will become a reality,” said Vezina.