Fuel for thought
By Amie Silverwood
Oct. 28, 2014 - News recently came out that a wood trim manufacturer, Lewis Mouldings and Wood Specialities in Nova Scotia, has received funding from both the federal and provincial governments to buy the equipment to turn more of the mill’s sawdust and chips into briquettes. It’s a great solution for a company that found itself without a customer for its residuals after the permanent closure of the local paper mill.
Jamie Lewis, the general manager of the company, told The Chronicle Herald that the writing was on the wall for the pulp and paper industry back in 2008 when the company decided to invest in its first wood fibre compressing machine and launched Fiber Fuel wood briquettes.
The process takes the wood waste from the Eastern White Pine that is used to manufacture moulding and compresses it into two-pound bricks under very high pressure. No binders or glues are added to the wood waste. They can be used in any wood-burning appliance in place of logs; burning longer and cleaner than firewood.
After a few years of pressing sawdust into fuel briquettes, the company has 50 dealers across the Maritimes with interest coming from the U.S. The $430,500 received from the federal and provincial governments will go to buying a second compressor and a biomass dryer to boost its briquette production by 400 per cent.
The province is facing a firewood shortage, making briquettes a good option and the company has been unable to keep up with demand. But the most promising aspect is that the product is made of residuals from the sawmills and therefore provides a new revenue stream where one had recently dried up.
On a recent trip to Sault Ste. Marie, I spoke with a former employee of the town’s failed paper mill. I saw that what was once a region with several sawmills has only a couple still in operation. The forest in Algoma is prized for its white birch, but without an operating paper mill, the region’s sawmills face an uphill battle to stay in the black. Logging roads are overgrown and logging activity is generally restricted to primary roads.
In B.C., it’s the beetle-killed trees that have lost their value as sawlogs, causing mill closures in traditional forestry towns. And though the dry, brittle logs can’t be turned into lumber, they can be used for briquettes, wood pellets or other wood fibre-based products.
That’s why the news is so promising that Lewis Mouldings and Wood Specialities has found funding and success in its briquette business. The forest industry must look to new solutions rather than rely on past partnerships to form viable business plans that will provide sustainable growth for the future.
Fresh perspectives are required to take advantage of the emerging opportunities and there’s a new generation of forestry professionals who are poised to seize them. Congratulations to the ten exceptional people we’ve chosen for this year’s Top 10 under 40. Forestry grads are in demand and our winners are good examples of what can be accomplished in forestry today (see page 20 for profiles of our chosen winners).
Economic challenges, fibre supply limits and shifts in consumer habits are some of the issues currently impacting the forest industry but Canada’s forests hold the potential to heal many of our country’s challenges as well, most notably as fossil fuels become more expensive both financially and environmentally.
Sawmills can’t operate alone. A healthy forest industry is able to find markets for different species and make use of every part of the trees harvested to make a variety of products that are in demand. As the demand for paper products diminishes, there are new uses for wood fibre emerging. Briquettes, pellets and advanced biofuels are only some of the solutions that can be incorporated into a more robust industry and there will be more ideas to come.