Multimillion-dollar Boost at UBC to Help B.C. Pulp Industry Cut Energy Costs by 20 Per Cent

Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Pulp and Paper Centre will help the Canadian pulp industry cut its energy costs by 20 per cent, thanks to a $1.3 million grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Current pulp production employs a mechanical refining process that relies heavily on the availability of inexpensive electrical energy. Seventy-eight refiners in the mechanical pulping industry in B.C. consume 11 per cent of the total energy produced in the province.

The five-year energy efficiency research project aims to develop new technologies — including chemical and biological refining methods — to improve production and paper quality while drastically reducing energy consumption. Annual savings resulting from technologies developed through the project are estimated at $45 million or 1,000 GWh — enough to power 100,000 homes.

In addition to the NSERC grant, BC Hydro and pulp industry partners have contributed more than $1 million in seed funding and in-kind donations, bringing the total funding of the project to more than $2 million.

“The future of the pulp and paper industry in Canada is uncertain due to increasing competition from emerging countries, a strong Canadian dollar, aging Canadian mills and low commodity prices,” says UBC Mechanical Engineering Assoc. Prof. James Olson, adding that South American and South Asian producers are already moving towards less expensive paper production using chemical instead of mechanical pulps.

“The mechanical pulping sector initially had a competitive advantage because of the investment in hydroelectric infrastructure and our high-grade paper from northern wood species,” says Olson. “However, rising electrical energy costs are threatening to eliminate this advantage.”

With the help of BC Hydro, Olson brought together seven of nine B.C. mechanical pulp mills and five industry stakeholders, including Andritz, Advanced Fibre Technologies, Arkema, Canfor, Catalyst Papers, Honeywell, Howe Sound Pulp and Paper, Paprican, WesCan Engineering, and West Fraser-Quesnel River Pulp.

“There is a gap between electricity supply and demand in B.C., and we need to do more to conserve power,” says Lisa Coltart, BC Hydro’s director of Power Smart. “We’re excited to sponsor research that will provide substantial energy savings while making B.C. a world leader in the field.”

“The pulp and paper industry is strategically important to Canada’s economy, with over $53 billion in sales and $44 billion in exports per year,” says Dean Michael Isaacson of UBC’s Faculty of Applied Science. “Engineering research in close collaboration with industry is a high priority of the Faculty.”

About UBC’s Energy Efficiency Research Project

The interdisciplinary team of UBC researchers, led by Assoc. Prof. James Olson, includes: Wood Science Adjunct Prof. Rodger Beatson, Chemical and Biological Engineering Assoc. Prof. Chad Bennington, Electrical and Computer Engineering Prof. Guy Dumont, Mechanical Engineering Prof. Sheldon Green, Chemical and Biological Engineering Prof. Emeritus Richard Kerekes and Chemical and Biological Engineering Assoc. Prof. Mark Martinez.

Much of the research will take advantage of facilities in the UBC Pulp and Paper Centre at the Faculty of Applied Science. Led by Dumont, the centre houses specialized laboratories and equipment for the pulp and paper industry and conducts industry-university research collaborations.

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