TAPPI, the leading association of the paper and pulp industry in America, held a special International Conference on Renewable Energy - 2007 on May 10-11, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia. Led by conference chair, Jim Frederick, the association organized a sterling line-up of technologists and decision-makers who will be the key stakeholders in bioenergy implementations at paper & pulp mills throughout North America during the next two decades.
This is an important topic for America because, unknown to most Americans, the forestry products industries have been the foremost producers of renewable energy - some 44% of the total - beating hydroelectric, ethanol, wind, and solar. As the the most experienced producers of bioenergy in the country, they have the most to win from a successful implentation of cellulosic ethanol conversion technology. However, it is difficult for management to ignore the inherent risks.
To set the tone for the conference, the keynote was presented by two principals involved in the recently announced alliance between oil and paper industry giants - Richard Zalesky of Chevron, VP of Biofuels and Hydrogen Business, and Denny Hunter, Weyerhaeuser VP of Technology.
Zalesky acknowledged his company's perspective that energy demand is growing so fast it is necessary to develop alternative, renewable biofuels processed from a variety different feedstocks. One point he made was that the expense to deploy one exploratory well used to find a deep water deposit of oil would pay for the deployment of several biorefineries. He also said that, under current economic conditions, it is government regulations that drive the development of renewable energy technologies - particularly Executive Orders like California's Low Carbon Fuels Standard.
Forest Biomass Availability and Logistics
A major contributor of information to the Billion-Ton Report, Dr. Bryce Stokes of the USDA Forest Service substantiated the finding that the land resources of the U.S. are capable of producing a sustainable supply of biomass to displace 30% or more of the nation's present petroleum consumption. One quarter of the amount could come from woody biomass resources. He admitted that the forestry projections are "very conservative, only based on forest wastes and fairly low estimations of utilization. They did not include forest crops - the agricultural analysis did include woody perennial crops."
What is the potential for tree farming in the U.S. to help supply fast growing, perennial woody biomass for biorefineries? Nathan Ramsey of ArboGen and Brian Stanton of Greenwood Resources made separate presentations about genomics and hybrid poplar feedstocks (an approach in practice in Europe). ArboGen is developing trees with improved quality and productivity characteristics that include faster growth rates, freezing tolerance, and modifications to wood composition. Stanton talked about the advantages and benefits of hybrid poplar plantations and the methodologies his company is working on for improving production economics.
Citing the Southeastern region as the nation’s woodpile, Jim Gan of Texas A&M spoke glowingly about it woody bioenergy potential. He concluded that policy decisions should be based on consideration of the entire value chain - including environmental and socioeconomic co-benefits. Tom Belin from Potlatch gave a peek at his company’s "100 Mile Biomass Study", which is examining the economics of a proposed pilot gasification/catalysis biorefinery as compared to a commercial higher volume biorefinery utilizing a 100-mi. radius of woody biomass grown in southern Arkansas.
Overview of Liquid Biofuel Technologies
Eric Larson of the Princeton Environmental Insitute teamed up with Michael Pacheco, current Director of the NREL National Bioenergy Center (but soon to be Chief Technology Officer for Archer Daniel Midland at the end of May) to provide an overview of a “continuum of options” for the production of cellulosic ethanol – using both biochemical and thermochemical processes. Their analyses led to a projection of how biorefining might be technologically integrated in the modern pulp mill facility.
Larson contributed the following observation based on a comparison of effective fuel yields - "A biorefinery integrated with a pulp mill effectively requires much less biomass per unit of liquid fuel produced vs. 'stand-alone' biofuel production. The reason is that black liquor (and some biomass) are charged against services provided to the mill (chemical recovery, process steam and power) - not against liquid fuel."
His concluding comments focused on how the P&P industry could get started: 1) energy-industries and the government to help manage the risk and bring in energy-industry competencies, 2) woody biomass gasification for IGCC-electricity and/or liquid fuels would be the most plausible first step, and 3) black liquid gasification (Weyerhaeuser New Bern model) would be another early technology to pursue.
Peter Axegård of STFI-Packforsk, the
leading R&D center in Scandinavia for forest products, described many ongoing European wood-based biorefinery research projects. Progress of many pilot programs are in the demonstration stage with some co-located with existing paper mills. In Europe there is no question that the forest-based sector plays a key role in a sustainable society.
Three technology sessions followed the introduction by Pacheco, Axegård, and Larson. The first one focused on the conversion of sugars to transportation fuels using biochemical technologies. The speakers included Art Ragauskas of Georgia Tech, Andrew Richard from Mascoma, and Michael Rushton of Lignol.
Session 2 took an indepth look at progress being made pursuing a thermochemical route. Fast pyrolysis, pyrolysis, and low and high temperature gasification were compared for their features and benefits using a variety of feedstock for the production of a variety of bioproducts. Jim Patel of Carbona focused his talk on biomass gasification technologies under development, including Bubbling Fluidized Bed (BFB) and Circulating Fluidized Bed (CFB) applications. His company is developing expertise on feeding biomass into the gasifier as well a filtering for cleanup of solids.
Session 3 introduced information on current thermochemical project development. Thomas Meth is Executive VP of Sales & Marketing of Intrinergy, a consulting company that helps industrial energy users integrate systems so they can receive the benefits of gasification. The company is commissioning its first woody biomass cold-gas facility in Ohio and building several more in Alabama.
Biomass Gas & Electric's Rick Jensen spoke about a 28MW gasification power project his company is developing for Georgia Power Company. It is located near a C&D landfill which provides primary fuel supplies. It also will utilize forest wood waste and road & land cleaning debris.
Where are we now?
Ben Thorp of the Biorefinery Deployment Collaborative gave a comprehensive overview of the many commerical biomass gasifiers in North America, a brief summary of the current pulp and paper biorefinery activities, and a side-by-side comparison of the six U.S. D.O.E. "Section 932" grant winners. He then made a persuasive appeal to the paper and pulp industry to begin now to capitalize biorefinery opportunites because they "may be the only way to avoid massive shutdown and loss of pulp and paper facilities in North America."
Making the Biorefinery a Reality
According to Richard Phillips of North Carolina State University there are five targets that must be met to achieve ethanol profitability:
1) The Ethanol Price> $2.50 per gallon,
2) The Capital Cost < $3 per Annual Gallon,
3) Wood Cost <$60 per bone dry ton (BDT),
4) Enzyme Cost <$.15 per gallon, and
5) ethanol yield> 75 gallons per BDT wood.
He echoed the conclusion of the Agenda 2020 Forest Products Industry Roadmap, "repurposing an existing kraft pulp mill as an initial approach has a greater chance of success (than a Greenfield plant)."
In short, the two day conference was well-conceived and well-executed. It is certainly time for the paper and pulp industry to take stock of its options and adjust to meet the demands of the future. The global leadership that it has lost in the production of pulp and paper could be recouped if it acts now to secure its position as a leader in bioenergy production. The key advantage it has is the current infrastructure and natural resources that already exist. Couple that with prudent investment in emerging technologies and government regulatory and incentive reform, and there is no reason why the roadmap laid out in the Agenda 2020 plan couldn't be a rebirth for American self-reliance as well.