Biomass conversion centre Possible boost for Pontiac’s economy and forestry industry

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Allyson Beauregard

In a press release issued September 10, MRC Pontiac Warden and
Mayor of Fort-Coulonge, Raymond Durocher, announced the launch of an innovative project
to boost the Pontiac’s economy and encourage the recovery of the
local forest industry: the
creation of a biomass conversion centre (BCC).

Allyson Beauregard

In a press release issued September 10, MRC Pontiac Warden and
Mayor of Fort-Coulonge, Raymond Durocher, announced the launch of an innovative project
to boost the Pontiac’s economy and encourage the recovery of the
local forest industry: the
creation of a biomass conversion centre (BCC).
“The centre’s primary purpose will be to optimize our forest resources by transforming low-quality wood into high-value-added products for rapidly growing markets,” said Durocher. “There are numerous prospects, but among those with the greatest potential at this stage is bio-refining to produce commercial sugars.”
According to Pierre Vezina, MRC Pontiac Forest Development Commissioner, bio-refining involves converting pulp and paper grade wood chips into a raw sugar product that can be transformed into commercial sugars for consumption or to produce energy. Vezina said the centre could be expanded in the future to include various other technologies such as using tree bark to produce products used in pharmaceutical and nutritional products.
For the time being, the BCC project is similar in scale to other bio-refining projects in Haute-Mauricie and the Saguenay, but it also offers many additional possibilities over the long term. The MRC believes the construction of the BCC will also help the region’s forest industry
to generate better-quality wood and more substantial supply guarantees, if there is now a buyer for the lower quality, pulp and paper grade wood.
Project taking shape
For the last two years, the MRC and its partners have been conducting
studies to confirm the viability and possible benefits of the project, with the
support of the Ministère
de l’Économie, de l’Innovation et des Exportations (MEIE) and Ministère des Forêts, de
la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP).
The results of these studies convinced the MRC to continue its efforts, in particular to identify various other technologies that could be integrated into the BCC project.
Talks are under way with corporations that supply these technologies, and MRC representatives are planning to travel to Europe and the United States this fall to study these technologies in more detail, and discuss the prospects of bringing them to the Pontiac.
At this stage, the MRC has met with the project’s stakeholders, including the Outaouais’ beneficiaries of supply guarantees, the Groupement forestier du Pontiac (GFP), and
private woodlot producers, to discuss the nature of the project, its intentions and future steps. “The BCC project clearly shows the importance of taking a new look at the use of our forests and to diversify to allow businesses to become more competitive and ultimately ensure their sustainability,” said Martin Boucher, GFP General Manager.
The Pontiac’s dependence on a single industry resulted in a major blow to the region’s economy when the Smurfit-Stone pulp and paper mill closed in 2008. “The Pontiac must find new economic development opportunities that take advantage of its natural resources and the skills of local workers, while also diversifying and innovating,” said the MRC Pontiac’s press release. 
Philippe Fredette, Plant and Supply Manager at Stella-Jones Inc. in Gatineau, a company
specializing in pressure treated wood products, expressed interest in the project’s evolution: “In addition to allowing us to obtain better supply
guarantees, the BCC may have a significant impact on the quality of logs in our forests, because of the removal of lower grade wood, as well as the cost of transportation.”
The road ahead
Over the next few months, those in charge of the project will continue to investigate additional prospects for the BCC such as cogeneration and extraction, and planning a fibre conversion centre. They will also work to select the BCC’s operating technology and
evaluate the six potential partners.
For now, the details concerning the construction site, timeframe, and process for the BCC have not been set in stone. However, according to Vezina, the plant will cost between $200-250 million to construct; he estimates the plant will be constructed in about five years and said those involved
are currently looking at Litchfield’s Industrial Park as the potential location for the plant.