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Thunder Bay bio-refinery commissioning attracts a crowd

$23-million plant is the test kitchen for next wave of value-added forest products
FP Innovations
Politicians and forest industry execs attended the commissioning of a bio-refinery plant in Thunder Bay, May 27. (FP Innovations photo)

A bio-refinery test plant is now operating at Resolute Forest Products’ pulp and paper plant in Thunder Bay.

Politicians and forest industry executives attended a May 27 ceremony of the $23-million plant’s commissioning in the city’s south end. The gathering included an announcement by Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Don Rusnak of $2-million in federal funding for the completed facility.

Known as the TMP-Bio plant, the processor is considered a transformative technology for the Canadian pulp and paper industry that will eventual produce the next-generation wave of value-added forest products.

The project was funded by Resolute and a number of federal, provincial and local agencies.

The thermo-mechanical-pulp bio-refinery (TMP-Bio) process was developed and patented by FP Innovations, a federal forestry research and development organization.

The technology converts wood into a mixed sugar stream and a hydrolysis lignin (H-lignin) stream used toward future high-end, environmentally friendly products like polyurethanes, paints, plastics, and textiles.

First developed at FP Innovations' Quebec lab, this latest version is capable of processing 100 tonnes of biomass a year.

Construction of the demonstration-scale plant began in early 2018, starting with $5.8 million in federal funding.

In a statement, Rusnak said Ottawa’s total $7.8-million commitment to the plant ensures a sustainable future for the forestry sector in the region.

“Northwestern Ontario is a hub for forestry innovation, and I look forward to seeing the results of this partnership and the positive impacts it will have on our growing bio-economy.”

"I want to commend FP Innovations and Resolute Forest Products on creating a unique partnership that helps our city, and the entire region, continue to build a strong value added forestry sector as well as a green economy,” said Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro, a former provincial natural resources sector.

The objective is to de-risk the process and provide large samples to the market in the hopes of someday building large commercial-scale operations.

Besides Rusnak, also on hand for the commissioning ceremony were Energy, Northern Development and Mines parliamentary assistant Ross Romano, Resolute president-CEO Stéphane Renou, and Forest Products Association of Canada president-CEO Derek Nighbor.

"Innovation is an integral part of Resolute's transformation strategy and long-term competitiveness,” said Renou.

“By hosting the bio-refinery at our Thunder Bay pulp and paper mill, we are helping to develop sustainable bioproducts and to generate new employment opportunities in the forest products industry."

"What makes this project so exciting is the number of partners who came together to make it happen,” said Nighbor.

"Canada has the potential to be a global bio-economy powerhouse and collective, concerted initiatives like these will move us into the future."

FP Innovations' presence in Thunder Bay began with the startup of a methanol purification plant in 2009 before launching a kraft lignin pilot plant in 2011. It led to the commissioning of the first commercial- scale kraft lignin plant in 2016.