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lunes, 16 de octubre de 2017

Bioproduct mills – Pillars of the new forest bioeconomy

I am currently preparing a new post of the series “Biorefinery models” focused on the forest biorefinery model. Several sub-models (or pathways) can be considered under the umbrella of this general model. Among them, the “advanced pulp mill” (chemical wood pulp as main product) is the best known and the most successful to this day. However, while I was reviewing my last blog posts related to this topic, I realized that the term “advanced pulp mill” (or “next generation pulp mill”) is being superseded by the term “bioproduct mill”. Hence, I thought that it could be interesting to prepare an introductory post about it. In the first part, a short description of this new concept is addressed. The second part shows a summary table of the main characteristics and figures of some bioproduct mill projects.

The bioproduct mill concept

The biorefinery approach was introduced by several pulp producers long time ago. The greatest exponent is Borregaard with its Sarpsborg Biorefinery (Norway). The plant manufactures specialty cellulose, lignin-based products, bioethanol, vanillin and fine chemicals. More examples can be found in the list of advanced commercial biorefineries in Europe: Lenzing Pulp Mill, Pöls Biorefinery and Domsjö Pulp Mill. Most of them are based on sulphite pulping (acidic conditions). Due to different reasons (process, economic and historical), facilities envolving this pulping technology have chosen to adopt a biorefinery model. For their level of maturity, those mills have been working much more with co-product development over the years.

Bioproduct mill is a more recent concept. It is used by Metsä Fibre in order to describe its pioneering plant in Äänekoski. Last August, Metsä next-generation bioproduct mill became operational and the old pulp mill was shut down and dismantled (see post, 17/08/2017). This fact marks a before and an after in the pulp and paper sector in Europe. From this turning point, new advanced pulp mills will not only be pulp mills but bioproduct mills, a specific type of forest biorefinery. The evolution has been very well described by Sören Back in his excellent article "From pulp mill to bioproduct mill" (I came across it when I was writing these lines).

So, what is a bioproduct mill? If we analyze the characteristics of the Äänekoski bioproduct mill and the upcoming projects listed in the summary table of the second part of this post, it is possible to find some common points:
- Manufacturing of large volumes of Kraft pulp (alkaline conditions).
Product portfolio extended with a plethora of bioproducts.
- Generation of excess bioenergy.
- No use of fossil fuels.
- Emissions at the lowest level in the industry.
- High energy efficiency.
- Sustainability of the forest operations.
- Environmental soundness.
- Strong positive impact on the local employment and economy.

Figure 1. Model of the forest biorefinery planned by Boreal Bioref in Kemijärvi (extracted from the web page of the company)

Two important ideas related to the aforementioned points will shape the future of this kind of facilities:
- Reduction of the dependence on pulps and gradual increasing of the importance of innovating bioproducts. The sulphate pulping mills have traditionally been linked directly to paper and board sector and the co-products have not been in the focus until now.
- Use of all side streams from the bioproduct mill in the mill itself or in an ecosystem formed by several companies around the mill. The facility has the potential to create a diverse ecosystem of bioeconomy companies that develop and manufacture bioproducts from wood raw materials.

Examples of bioproduct mills

Äänekoski bioproduct mill is the spearhead of the new forest bioeconomy. Several projects seek to follow its steps. Driven by the steadily increasing of the demand for softwood market pulp (strong growing in Asia, particularly in China), large mills are being planned in Northern Europe. Finland clearly leads the investments.

Processing capacity (Mm3/y)
Pulp production capacity (tons/y)
Employment effect
Additional information
Äänekoski (Finland)
Pulp and other bioproducts: tall oil, turpentine, lignin products, wood fuel, producer gas, sulphuric acid, textile fibres, biocomposites, fertilisers and biogas. Bioenergy.
Total impact: 2,500 jobs (200 at the plant).
Construction: 2016–2017.
Start-up: August 2017.
Kuopio (Finland)
Softwood pulp and other bioproducts, such as tall oil and turpentine. Bioenergy.
Total impact: 3,000 jobs (200 at the plant).
Construction: 2018–2019.
Start-up: 2020.

Kemijärvi (Lapland, Finland).
400,000 (total quantity of biomaterials and biochemicals)
Dissolving pulp, long fibre market pulp, microcrystalline cellulose, C5/C6 sugars, pine oil, turpentine and soil improvement substances. Bioenergy.
Total impact: 1,000 jobs (200 at the plant).
Investment decision: 2017.
Construction: 2018–2019.
Start-up: early 2020.
Paltamo (Kainuu, Finland).
Pulp and other bioproducts. Bioenergy.
Total impact: 1,200 jobs (200 at the plant).
Start-up: 2020.
Potential locations:  Tartu or Viljandi County (Estonia).
Pulp and other bioproducts made from cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Bioenergy.
Total impact: 900 jobs (200 at the plant).
Investment decision: 2019
Construction: 2020-2021.
Start-up: 2022.

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