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Three magic letters

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Three magic letters

February 28, 2013 - 19:00
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Biofuels have become the latest rage around the forest products industry. They are an offspring of the whole bio rage: bio-economy, bioenergy, biorefinery. And, they do have the potential to be a game changer. But, the forest products industry has been using biofuel for decades; only they used to call it wood waste or hog fuel. It is amazing how three letters – b.i.o. – can change peoples’ perception. I remember how incensed an association head was years ago when I referred to “waste paper”. Of course, the proper term is secondary fiber.

Myriad conferences, courses, magazines have been established around the principle of bioenergy.

For transport, we are not looking at burning biomass in the depths of a ship or up in the engine of a train, harking back to the days of the coal stoker. We are looking at biofuels produced in a biorefinery from biomass.

Partnerships will be key

There are numerous projects underway and how many will come to fruition is still anybody’s guess. Finnish-based UPM is certainly in the forefront. Domtar is as well but it is looking at new products rather than transport fuel. For the most part, the forest products industry will not be able to go it alone. Money and technical expertise are lacking. Partners are needed. And, it is still a big risk.

In this issue, we look at one of the examples of biorefining. Catalytic Research Institute (CRI) is now into its third generation of catalysts which are the basis of its process. Interestingly enough, the impetus for the development is coming mainly from the refineries, not the pulp and paper producers. It is the former that has the technology (and the cash) but the latter has the feedstock.

A few years ago, I visited the then-new Metsa Botnia mill in Uruguay. Its plantation forests were actually planted by Shell Oil in the 1980s, which even then was looking at new feedstocks and processes that could possibly replace a portion of the fossil fuels we use.

Every little bit helps, for the producers as well as the carriers. Government regulations concerning greenhouse gas emissions will only become more stringent as time goes on. Just look at the SECA rules that soon will come into effect as an example. It’s too early to say how this will all turn out. Even CRI does not expect a commercial refinery using its process to be in operation before 2016 and a lot can happen in three years.

All eyes on Baltimore

As this is the first issue of 2013 and we approach TS20 in Baltimore, it is only natural that we dedicate a large portion of our editorial in this issue as well as subsequent issues in 2013 to the Symposium. Already, a robust program has been set see page 13, and yes, a session has been devoted to green energy and biomass.

The program will also feature four re- gional sessions: North America, Europe, South America and Asia. The popular Speakers Corner returns.

As is our custom in the first issue of a Symposium year, we profile the host port. Managing Editor Ken Norris describes how Baltimore has regained as its position as a port of choice for many shippers. It is one of the first US east coast ports that will be able to handle the post-Panamax ships capable of carrying up to 13,000 containers. A $1.3-billion project to improve infrastructure will pay dividends. As our chairmen have noted in their column, there is also so much history, dating right back to the founding of the US, connected with the port. The port tour on the first day promises to be a real voyage of discovery.