Canada: Last days of an industry that thinks the last scraps of forest will save ’em

The outgoing president and chief executive officer who oversaw two of
the province’s pulp mills said the forestry sector’s fortunes hinge on
producing energy and other goods from wood leftovers. “To compete in
Canada with these difficult global markets, we have to extract every
piece of value from the wood, from the raw material,” said Peter
Vinall Monday, on his first day off the job at AV Group – a subsidiary
of India-based Aditya Birla Group – which runs the AV Cell and AV
Nackawic dissolving-pulp mills. “Biorefining is just a must, as is
energy self-sufficiency,” Vinall said, as a regional task force on
bioenergy publicly released its final 75-page report. The Atlantica
Bioenergy Task Force, a consortium of industry, academic and
government partners based in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine,
made 15 recommendations on sustainable forest management, biomass
management, energy policy, education, research and development and
technology implementation.

Bruce McIntyre, a PricewaterhouseCoopers
LLP consultant at the helm of the task force and leader of the
company’s forest, paper and packaging division, said in a statement
that the report was meant to address a dire situation in forestry.
“The region is rich in forests and has historically depended on the
forest industry to drive its economy,” McIntyre said. “But the region
is now struggling to attract new investment and is facing the added
challenges of high log and wage costs, weak markets, and energy costs
that are above average.” One of Vinall’s long-standing personal
ambitions, also a goal of AV Group, has been to use residues from the
company’s processes to create energy and other lucrative products.
Vinall said AV Group has commissioned several studies, extensive
laboratory tests and even trials on the bioenergy potential for its
plants. The company already has interested third-party buyers lined up
to take on byproducts. AV Group’s two most promising avenues for new
revenue from bioenergy, Vinall said, include converting hemicellulose
– a natural product of the pulping process – into sweetener, or using
residues to make fuel. Frank Slater, the chief operating officer of AV
Nackawic who has taken on Vinall’s responsibilities at that mill, said
the company’s long-term goals for bioenergy remain in place despite
current market turmoil that is eating at profits and preventing the
company from investing. “Wood is just simply too expensive in this
country to waste any,” Slater said.

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