Modern Pulp Mill Using Agricultural Fibers, Not Trees, Starts Construction in US
by Valerie Langer
In August of 2017 bulldozers and backhoes moved in to break ground on a new pulp mill. Why is Canopy, an environmental organization, so excited about this? Well, it’s no ordinary pulp mill. Columbia Pulp is building a mill that will use wheat straw and alfalfa residues, left over after the grain harvest, to manufacture pulp that can be used to make paper — particularly for carton and cardboard packaging and for moulded paper, like take-out clamshells. It will also be able to be mixed in with other fibres to make paper for the print industries. Every ton of pulp made with agricultural residues — like wheat, rye, alfalfa or flax straw, or from crops like switchgrass and miscanthus grown on degraded land — is a ton of pulp not made from species-rich ancient and endangered forests. The 150, 000-ton/year-pulp mill is being built now in south-eastern Washington State, and it will be the first modern commodity pulp mill in North America to use agricultural fibres not trees. That’s great, groundbreaking news!
Canopy projects that there will be dozens of agricultural pulp mills built in North America over the next decade. There are a number of emerging technologies that can make pulp without damaging forests and already several ventures in the financing stage or ready to build. Additionally, it appears the technologies will be able to make pulp at a competitive price to wood pulp while using less water and energy. More good news!
Some of the environmental and socio-economic benefits of the Columbia Pulp technology, and of the use of agricultural residues for pulp include:
- A pulp product that can be used in existing paper mills to make paper products;
- Only 5% of the straw residue within a 100 mile (160 kilometre) radius of the mill will be used, leaving more than sufficient residue to nourish the soils;
- Columbia Pulp’s eastern Washington mill will eliminate 14,000 – 18,000 tons/year of greenhouse gas emissions from field burning–a common practice in high density growth farm regions;
- Lower water usage — 15% of the total water usage of a similar size kraft wood mill
- Lower energy consumption — 60% of the total energy usage of a similar kraft wood mill
- Lower chemical use and chemicals that are much less toxic than those used in conventional wood pulp mills
- Approximately 85 new jobs created as employment at the mill;
- Approximately 200 new jobs created to service the mill;
- Farmers will gain revenue by selling the straw by-product they otherwise burn.
If we are to seriously tackle the major problem of forest degradation and deforestation we have to reduce consumption of forests products — plain and simple. That means stemming the rate of consumption by using recycled materials and practicing efficient use and design. It also means finding alternative materials that don’t cost the earth to make products that are currently made from chopping down biologically rich forests. That’s why we’re excited that a new way to make paper is on the horizon.