CHP use in Canadian forest product mills on the rise

By Anna Austin | April 13, 2011

A good first step in taking advantage of Canada’s forest sector in relation to the emerging bioeconomy industry is integrating more combined heat and power (CHP) into existing forest product mills, according to a report released by the Forest Products Association of Canada.

Titled “The New Face of the Canadian Forest Industry: The Emerging Bio-Revolution,” the report is a part of FPAC’s phased, comprehensive investigation of the opportunities to produce a wide range of bioproducts from wood fiber. FPInnovations, a nonprofit forest research institute, and the Canadian Forest Service are also partners in the project.

When CHP technology is added to an existing pulp mill site, FPAC reported that it experiences an average improvement in return on capital employed of about 3.7 percent, an improvement in contribution to gross domestic product of 10 to 25 percent, and employment increase of 1 to 4 percent. Heat and power options often have stronger social metrics as the scale of the plants are larger than some of the more profitable fuel and chemical pathways, according to the report.

Susan Murray of FPAC said CHP is already common in the pulp and paper sector.  “The FPAC family of pulp and paper mills already self-generates 67 percent of their energy needs, primarily through biomass-fired CHP,” she said. “Across the whole sector, this is equivalent to three nuclear reactors.”

Emerging technologies are increasing the generating potential and applicability of CHP throughout the forest products industry, according to Murray. “We could perhaps reach the equivalent of nine nuclear reactors,” she said. “Smaller-scale installations are also becoming more attractive for urban developments, institutional campuses and remote and rural communities.”  

While the potential of biomass CHP along with transportation fuel is economically viable in biorefineries where high-value byproducts are also made, or where the feedstock is inexpensive, the scale of deployment depends on biomass availability, the report says. Even if biomass is available, the domestic market for bioenergy use is not yet well-developed, and there is no consistent policy framework for large-scale bioenergy demand and supply.

Murray said the Canadian government offers some initiatives to support or facilitate investment in CHP, however, including the Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Fund and the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation.