Value-Add Opportunities From Byproducts Utilization

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Opportunities For Integration Of Forest By-Products With Conventional Industry

Amit Kumar (Department of Mechanical Engineering, U of A), David Bressler (Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, U of A), Victor Lieffers (Department of Renewable Resources, U of A), Jeff Stryker (Department of Chemistry, U of A), Robert Day (Department of Civil Engineering, U of C; Owner of RLD Materials Engineering & Consulting)

Alberta’s forest sector produces a significant amount of byproducts which are not currently used to maximize potential value. Limited data is available on the volumes of these byproducts, their location within the province, detailed characterization and their potential use. There is also limited information on potential conversion of these byproducts to a common intermediate that could be used in a large scale biorefinery or petrochemical refinery for production of fuels and chemicals. In addition, there are major concerns around consistency of these byproduct streams in terms of supply and composition as well as variability between companies, feedstocks and processes. This project examines these issues in the Alberta context and explore opportunities for integration with conventional industries.


Inventory & Characterization of Alberta Forest Sector By-Products

Trevor April (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology)

A comprehensive inventory of all by-product streams produced in pulp and paper operations (roadside slash, processing streams, waste streams, etc.) will be conducted to understand the types of material available and their collective volumes. Identifying value-added opportunities for forest by-products and assessing their feasibility requires several integrated steps. Some by-product streams generated by the pulp and paper industry are well documented, such as terpenes, waste fibres (virgin and effluent waste), wood ash, waste water treatment plant (WWTP) sludge, lime mud and dust, tall oil soap, and non-combustible gases (NCG). However, there is little aggregate information on the quantities of these by-products generated by the different mills in Alberta. Information gathered by individual companies, FMA (Forest Management Agreement) holders, and from other sources of data needs to be compiled and standardized. The information gathered from this proposed project will be used to complement those already retained in the Bio-Resource Information Management System (BRIMS). Once common by-product streams among the six different mills (Alberta Newsprint Co., Alberta Pacific Forest Industries Inc., Daishowa-Marubeni International, Millar Western Forest Products Ltd., West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd., and Weyerhaeuser) are quantified and preliminary feasibility and assessment studies have been carried out, these waste streams will be further characterized to understand composition, chemical properties, and their variability between the mills.


Optimization and adaptation of a lipids-to-hydrocarbons (LTH) technology to convert Alberta-based tall oils into renewable fuels and chemicals

David Bressler (Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, U of A)

The LTH technology is a patented process that allows conversion of low value streams into renewable fuels and value-added chemicals that are directly compatible with the existing infrastructure of the petrochemical industry. The aim of this project is to optimize the LTH process and to adapt it for use with tall oils, a low value by-product in the forestry industry. The project also provides an important link between the provincial forestry and energy sectors. Currently, the LTH process is licensed to Forge Hydrocarbons for conversion of rendered animal fats to various grades of hydrocarbons. Dr. Bressler was recently interviewed by CBC Radio to explain this patented LTH process (click here to listen to the broadcast. Hint: skip to the 8-minute mark).


Identification and Valorization of Terpene Biomass from Alberta Forest Processing

Jeff Stryker (Department of Chemistry, U of A)

Terpenes are a class of organic compounds with the formula (C5H8)n, and comprise ~90% of readily extractable material from wood. The aims of this project are to 1) characterize and quantify the terpene fractions as a function of forest location and processing, and 2) determine potential valorization products based on major terpene constituents. This strategy will allow conversion of low value forestry streams into renewable value-added chemicals. Building on their patented “base-metal” catalyst design, the Stryker group will develop practical catalysts for the hydrotreatment of forestry waste streams to reduce oxygen content and remove sulfur and nitrogen contaminants. The catalysts, working under mild conditions, will allow preservation of the hydrocarbon content from terpene streams and thus will produce a valuable source of transportation fuel and platform chemicals.


Characterization and Utilization of Forest-based Ash

Vivek Bindiganavile (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, U of A), Amit Kumar (Department of Mechanical Engineering, U of A)

As with many other industries, the forest industry generates ash as a byproduct during the combustion processes. In the absence of a viable end-user, the majority of ash produced by Alberta’s forest industry is land filled. The utilization of agro-based ash in value-added applications is not a new concept. For example, rice-husk ash and bagasse ash have found efficient use as stand-alone fillers, as aggregates and as supplementary cementing materials. However, as with most biomass-based products, the ash from the forest sector is likely to have a wide range of constituents in varied proportions. With specific reference to the cement and concrete industry, the physical and chemical characteristics of the material directly inform upon its effect on the rheology, short-term mechanical performance and long-term durability of the structural material. Therefore, as with most industrial by-products, the feasibility of forest-based ash must first be determined through a series of standard (ASTM) and non-standard specifications. The proposed study will conduct an appraisal of select representative samples of forest-based ash from Alberta to describe the particle size distribution, chemical composition, oxide content and crystallinity - parameters that expressly address its viability as a cementitious binder. In addition, this study will help design new test protocols suited for the use of such ash in cement-based systems.


Enzymatic Treatment of Wood Pulp to Produce Cellulose Nanocrystals

David Bressler (Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, U of A), Alberta Innovates Technology Futures

Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) are light-weight crystals with strength and stiffness comparable to steel that are derived from cellulose, an extremely abundant and renewable polymer. These striking characteristics have led to the use of CNC in numerous industrial applications, such as the reinforcement of plastic and paper materials, and have made the development of these crystals an increasingly important area of research. Another attractive feature of CNC is that they can be isolated from virtually any cellulose-containing material, including wood pulp, which is a cellulose-rich waste product from the paper industry. When dry, the cellulose from wood pulp has a lint-like consistency that can be attributed mostly to the amorphous regions of cellulose that are highly disordered and held together quite loosely. This is in contrast to the highly structured crystalline regions from which CNC are derived. Currently, CNC is produced from cellulosic materials through acid digestion, which can remove the amorphous regions, but is only about 20% efficient in terms of carbon utilization. This project aims to increase cellulose nanocrystal yields through pre-treatment of wood pulp with hydrolytic enzymes that would decrease amorphous regions allowing for recovery of the sugars in fermentable form and concentrating the crystalline regions allowing acid hydrolysis to occur at much higher carbon loading and carbon conversion efficiency.


Catalytic Coal or biomass Upgrading Using Natural Gas for Liquid Chemical or Fuel Production (Affiliated Project; funding provided by Alberta Innovates Energy and Environment Solutions, NSERC)

Hua Song (Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary)

Biomass or low-rank coal fast pyrolysis followed by hydrodeoxygenation upgrading is the most popular way to produce synthetic oil. Such two-step process can be combined together as so-called hydropyrolysis treatment. This approach usually involves continuous hydrogen flow, resulting in significantly increased operation cost. Compared to hydrogen which is not naturally available and mainly produced through methane steam reforming, methane can be readily obtained from nature known as natural gas with low cost. This research aims to directly employ methane as reducing agent instead of hydrogen for removing oxygen from biomass under the facilitation of specially developed low-cost supported catalyst, leading to significantly reduced operation cost. Moreover, methane itself will be converted to higher hydrocarbons beneficial for extra liquid fuel production. In addition, the char generated from aforementioned process is conventionally discharged out and delivered to a separate process for syngas production or power generation from combustion. Unlike such separate char processing route, we are planning to use a single step to simultaneously convert char and volatile matters from biomass pyrolysis to syngas and liquid fuel, during which char is gasified by water vapor or CO2 generated from methane deoxygenation of volatile matters under the facilitation of co-added gasification catalyst. Later on, such gasification catalyst will ‎be engineered together with tar upgrading catalyst to serve as one catalyst with multifunction. A novel circulating bed reactor design composed of a transport reactor equipped with recycle leg and two consecutive gas cyclones grants the proposed catalytic process with feature of continuous biomass solid feeding and ash removal while allowing catalyst and unreacted solid biomass recycled back for further reaction, leading to minimization of catalyst make-up and extended residence time for better solid fuel conversion and thus benefiting its potential commercialization.


Catalytic CSimultaneous Conversion of Municipal Solid Waste and Greenhouse Gas into Valuable Commodities (Affiliated Project; funding provided by a New Faculty Research Award - Zandmer Grant)

Hua Song (Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary)

Along with human’s urbanization and industrialization, more and more municipal wastes have been generated, which create significantly environmental hazards and high processing cost during its storage and disposal. Carbon dioxide is another environmental pollutant typically generated from fossil fuel combustion, causing global warming. Our study aims to develop a novel process where municipal waste and CO2 will be simultaneously converted to valuable liquid chemicals or fuels. During this process, nanotechnology will be applied to invent specially tailored catalyst which can effectively catalyze the CO2 gasification of municipal waste under moderate temperature (600 ~ 800 oC). The produced CO rich gas will undergo water-gas shift (WGS) reaction to achieve desirable CO to H2 ratio immediately followed by a liquefaction process under the facilitation of another developed novel catalyst system at temperature of 350 ~ 450 oC. The unreacted CO2 will be recycled back to the gasifier for further reaction. The whole process will be operated under near atmospheric pressure, effectively avoiding the pressure mismatch between gasification and conventional Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process. Such operation will lead to the significant capital and operation cost reduction due to the elimination of the expensive pressurization step before liquefaction process and usage of less costly fabrication materials as well as better liquefier design for efficient reaction heat dissipation to prevent catalyst deactivation.