With a $62 million plan to build a cogeneration plant on site at the Thurso mill, Fortress Paper will be able to produce nearly 25 megawatts of power both for the mill and the Quebec power grid by the end of 2012.
While cogeneration plants are dependent on recycling byproducts from the manufacturing process – in Thurso’s case, steam from the pulping process – to produce energy, they also require additional “fuel” from biomass to maximize their energy output.
So what is biomass?
Biomass is biological material from living or recently living organisms such as wood. Considered a renewable energy source, biomass is typically forest residues (like dead trees, branches and tree stumps), wood chips, and sawdust that come from wood processing plants. Biodegradable wastes derived from similar processing, plant and animal matter used in producing fibers and chemicals, and sometimes minerals can even be used as biomass.
While this may sound highly industrial – and granted most of the time it usually is – biomass burning is actually something many people do on a daily basis. Burning firewood in stoves or furnaces for the purpose of heat is considered biomass energy.
According to the Canadian Center for Energy, biomass provides nearly six per cent of Canada’s primary energy demand and it is the second largest source of renewable energy after hydroelectricity.
Why Biomass Burning Can Be Important
By burning biomass as an energy source, plants and mills like the ones in Thurso prevent waste from entering landfill systems or being disposed into the environment. A good example of this is “pulp liquor” – a mixture of chemicals and organic material that is necessary in the pulping process. Mills that burn biomass can burn off the pulp liquor for heat instead of arranging for the disposal of chemicals.
Cogeneration plants can also procure biomass from other mills and wood suppliers that no longer need products like sawdust or wood chips, which – in essence – eliminates their waste.
Outside of the pulp and paper industry, biomass can also be converted into energy-providing biofuels such as biogas, methane, methanol and ethanol.