A spark has been ignited for a new proposed pellet plant to be built in South Hazelton.
The Gitxsan Development Corporation has been working on bringing the project to reality for just over a year. They’ve teamed up with Airex Energy out of Quebec, who has developed technology for a new type of pellet that is a clean alternative to coal.
The biocoal — or torrefied pellets — are created by heating the biomass with little or no oxygen to remove moisture and volatile organic compounds. This turns it into a solid, blackened and weather resistant material. The pellets contain 70 per cent of the mass and 90 percent of the energy content of the pre-treated material.
If this project goes ahead in South Hazelton, this technology will be the first to be used in North America on this scale.
Rick Connors of Gitxsan Forest Inc. said fibre for the project would be provided through GFI as well as a few other local sawmills. Typically, this fibre is waste sawmill residues that are difficult to dispose of.
“This is a completely green and sustainable process. Everyone knows that wood fibre, the residual wood fibre in the basket, that we have is a problem,” he said.
“The Ministry of Forest is looking at a carbon tax program for anyone burning wood in the bush, so in other words, you’ll have to pay to burn fibre at the site.”
The idea is to build a $45-million plant. It will employ around 45 people directly at the site, an additional 46 in the bush and there will also be opportunity for local trucking companies. Pellets will be shipped by rail to Prince Rupert and then off to Asian markets.
“We will start cleaning up the forest properly instead of burning stuff, let’s bring that fibre in. One man’s garbage is another man’s gold,” Connors added. “We are confident there will be some local employment created through the gathering of waste fibre in the bush, stuff that is normally discarded will now have a market.”
Connor and a representative from Airex went to Japan recently where he said interest in the project is strong and the demand for these pellets as a replacement for coal in energy production is rising.
“We are excited for the region. We are excited for the technology. We are excited to bring to the world a technology and a process that will provide 100,000 tonnes of torified, or carbonized pellets for the purpose of replacement of coal in power burning facilities,” he said.
The next steps are finding the money to build it and getting community support.
“We are going through an extensive funding regiment right now, we’ve had some success already. We are proceeding forward, we hope to have all our funding in place by late fall, early winter. At that point we will announce a final investment decision,” he said.
Community engagement sessions will start later in the year.