Saturday, August 1, 2015

First load of ‘hog fuel’ brought to biomass boiler

With the new AbitibiBowater biomass boiler here to be burning more and more wood waste in coming months, Rainy Lake Logistics has begun transporting “hog fuel” to the site—dropping off its first load there Monday morning.
Rainy Lake Logistics, a partnership between Northern Bulk (part of the Gardewine Group) and the Rainy Lake Tribal Development Corp., is the primary supplier of transportation services to bring biomass fuel to the boiler.

“AbitibiBowater seems to have really stepped up to the plate to ensure that the Fort Frances mill stays competitive by installing the biomass burner,” said Tony Marinaro, economic development advisor for Pwi-Di-Goo-Zing Ne-Yaa-Zhing Advisory Services.
“We are very happy to be in partnership with both AbitibiBowater as well as Gardewine in working together on this project,” he added.
“It’s a good partnership,” agreed Darin Downey, director of operations with Gardewine.
“Obviously, the whole industry has been in dire straits for some time now, and obviously Abitibi has made a commitment to the Fort Frances community as far as they’re going to be there long-term.
“It’s exciting for us to be partnering both with Abitibi and Rainy Lake Tribal Development Corp.,” Downey added. “You read the newspaper and there’s tough economic times everywhere, and here these guys are going to make their mill more efficient and that allows us to be part of that.”
Starting Monday, Northern Bulk trucks will be transporting loads of biomass from segregated stockpiles at the landfill and mill property north of the lagoon to the biomass boiler site.
The number of trips per days will depend on how much biomass is being burned at a given time. Right now, it is not yet burning at full capacity.
“If they want to ramp up, we’re there to ramp up for them. Whether it’s eight loads a day or 16 loads a day, we’ll be there to support them,” stressed Downey, estimating that for the near future, they’ll be running about eight loads a day.
Mill manager John Harrison said the biomass boiler had been running on natural gas starting on Dec. 19, and running partially on biomass since Jan. 27.
“We’re up to about 50 percent of the fuel in boiler being biomass, and the balance is natural gas. We’re working on checking out systems, working out start-up glitches that we’ve got,” Harrison explained.
“We continue to work on getting those deficiencies resolves, work on tuning up systems so they work effectively,” he added. “And as things get straightened out, we’ll be expanding the biomass portion from 50 percent up to 95 percent fuel supply.
“Ideally, we’d like to be up to 100 percent biomass, with just a little bit of gas for start-up purposes.”
Over the last two or three weeks, Harrison said the mill has been hauling its own supply of biomass on site.
“We also continue to generate biomass in our wood room processes to feed the groundwood mill and the kraft mill, and that biomass has been hauled over and dumped at our site here so that we can run the boiler,” he noted.
Harrison explained that from now on, Northern Bulk will be hauling biomass from the mill’s biomass storage sites, but eventually he would like to see sawmill businesses pick back up and see Northern Bulk haul in biomass fuel generated by them, as well.
“We’ve also got some partners who have started grinding slash piles in the bush, and they’ll be hauling that down, as well,” added Harrison, referring to Fred Dennis in Mine Centre.
Harrison said once the biomass boiler is running at its full limit, it will burn about 2,000 “green” tonnes of biomass a day, but added the mill has “an assured supply here over the next year or two.”
“I’d like to see the sawmills running again—it’s a key piece of our business beyond biomass to see the sawmills run successfully—but we’ve got sufficient fuel right now,” he noted,
The mill will have three-four days’ worth of biomass on site at all times.
Downey noted Gardewine developed a prototype trailer specifically to haul biomass, and that trailer which first arrived here Monday is being tested out for the near future.
“If we find that after we test this trailer, this is what we like, then we would probably look at adding more to the haul. If not, we’ll test something else.
“But hopefully we got this right.”
The partnership known as Rainy Lake Logistics was announced last June, and Marinaro said he was happy to finally see it get off the ground.
“It’s been a long time since we first started getting this going,” he said.
“Initially, the plan was to be hauling from Hudson and Atikokan, but economic times being what they are . . . .” he trailed off. “Abitibi has given us this contract to be hauling locally so it gets things rolling.
“We’re very happy to be part of this so far. We just hope that business continues as usual in the near future here,” added Marinaro.
“We’re worked long and hard to get where we are,” echoed Richard Bruyere, executive director of Pwi-Di-Goo-Zing Ne-Yaa-Zhing Advisory Services.
“It’s unfortunate the economic times are what they are, but we have a positive outlook and maybe we can make a difference for the people in the communities.
“We’re going to go ahead and do what we have to do to make sure we create some economies for the First Nations and, hopefully, some spin-offs for the community and the rest of the district, as well,” Bruyere noted.
“We’re here to stay,” he pledged. “Our population is increasing amongst the First Nations. We know there’s an outflow of people in the Rainy River District—Stats Canada will tell you that—but our population is growing and we have to do something to prepare for the future, and this is one of the ventures that we’ve undertaken.
“We’re really hoping for some success here, and with the right people, with our partnership with Gardewine, and the co-operation of AbitibiBowater, we’ll do it,” he enthused. “It’s just going to be tough slugging for a while.”
Marinaro said the AbitibiBowater contract is Rainy Lake Logistics’ first, but added calls for proposal from the Ontario Power Generation and Ministry of Natural Resources could mean more work in the future.
“The more work there is, the more trucks there will be. We’ve got people being trained so we’ll try to accommodate the need,” he noted.
Future plans also may include a shop building on Couchiching.
“We’re still working on that with the community. Again, it’s about doing the planning and ensuring there’s the longevity of the operation with Abitibi before we make those types of investments,” said Marinaro. “We need some commitments there.
“Once they get moving, we’ll be able to get a better idea as to how much we put into it. But the long-term plan is to have a facility in the community. A spot’s been chosen, and we’re doing our due diligence with the community to work out a lease.
“Those details are still being worked out, but there’s not rush at this point,” added Marinaro. “We’re not sure how large the operation will grow to.”

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