By 2016, Nanaimo could be home to a wood pellet plant supplying carbon-neutral fuel to industrial customers around the world.
TimberWest is proposing a $60-million plant at Duke Point, which when complete will produce about 200,000 metric tonnes of wood pellets annually.
“This proposed plant will be the first of its scale, or of any scale I think, on Vancouver Island,” said Domenico Iannidinardo, TimberWest vice-president and chief forester in charge of sustainability.
Iannidinardo said the plant represents new economic activity that uses a renewable resource, in this case tree limbs and tops, sawmill tailings and sawdust that would otherwise go to waste.
Wood pellets are considered a carbon-neutral energy source since growing new trees absorbs the carbon released by the pellets. Pellets can be burned as a primary fuel or mixed with coal to lessen the carbon footprint of supplying heat for applications such as large-scale electricity generation.
TimberWest is still lining up its customer base for pellet sales worldwide and the hope is that some customers will switch entirely over to wood pellet fuel.
“It will likely be used to co-fire existing energy plants around the world,” Iannidinardo.
But construction of the plant is not a done deal. TimberWest is still in the process of getting appropriate zoning and permits before construction can start, possibly in early 2015.
Iannidinardo said Duke Point has all the transportation, power and other infrastructure need already in place. Water isn’t needed for production, so no additional water supply will be required. The mill will be a stand-alone operation.
“Once it’s a go, it will be about one year in construction and it will employ about 100 people during that construction period,” Iannidinardo said. “In operation, it’ll employ about 65 full-time, 15 in the plant and about 50 will be in the woods gathering up the material.”
Iannidinardo did not have figures at hand, but said the economic benefit to Nanaimo, taking into account employment and property taxes, would be significant.
“Currently we’re pretty confident that our markets and our supply agreements are coming together,” Iannidinardo said. “The demand is out there. The renewable resource is out there, so we’re all optimistic on all fronts.”
Sasha Angus, Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation chief executive officer, said much of the plant’s product could be shipped to customers in Europe.
“There’s really strong policy in Europe around carbon offsets for things like pelletization,” Angus said. “So it’s an interesting and profitable market for them to look at.”