by Andru McCracken
What if, instead of burning piles of wood debris throughout the Robson Valley, that fibre could be turned into a high-value and relatively earth-friendly fuel to create electricity in coal plants overseas? Jason Janus the CEO of 4Leaf Corp was in McBride last Thursday revealing more details about their planned biochar plant in the community. Janus co-hosted an open house at the office of the McBride Community Forest. He says the company has occupancy of the former MFI industrial site outside of McBride, but they have not yet closed the deal to purchase the property.
Janus gave a brief slideshow giving an overview of the project and some background to the company’s main product: torrefied pellets.
While the central product of the business is torrefied pellets, the project includes an array of additional ventures including a 6-8 megawatt power plant, an oversized timber mill, and a tree seedling nursery among others. The main enterprise is the production of bio-coal pellets. Janus explained these black pellets are similar to wood pellets used in home heating, except that they can be made of any fibre and have a very even energy consistency compared to conventional white pellets.
The process of creating the bio-coal pellets is called torrefaction and the wood fibre is heated up to a high temperature in an oxygen-less environment. The resulting blackened material is similar to coal.
Valemount Community Forest Manager Craig Pryor met with the company to discuss their plans and to talk about the wood supply potential of the valley.
“It’s a great goal,” said Pryor.
To power the bio-coal pellet plant, Janus hopes to construct an electricity-producing, wood-burning power plant, because BC Hydro doesn’t have the capacity to supply them with power.
Janus confirmed the power plant would meet or exceed provincial regulations for emissions.
Pryor said having a place to send wood that’s not fit for the sawmill would be an advantage.
“That’s exactly what the valley needs. We have a whole bunch of species – junky hemlock and cedar – but not enough of any of them to do something with,” Pryor said. “We need a torrefied pellet plant.”
Pryor said that logging those decadent stands would lead to a faster growing and healthier forest.
Pryor said that the company’s plans are positive, but hinted they still have a ways to go.
“They are still at 10,000 feet. They have wonderful plans. I hope they come down to ground level to do a pellet plant and not worry about the other stuff.”
Pryor encouraged the proponents to focus on just one aspect of the enterprise and seek other operators to take advantage of other associated businesses, like the seedling nursery, and the oversized wood sawmill.
In the meantime, McBride community forest is hoping to get a better forest inventory using LIDAR, a move that could help provide certainty for 4Leaf Corp, but also other companies looking to do business in the valley.
One of the concerns raised at the meeting was whether or not it is possible to remove too much debris from the forest.
“It’s something we’d have to watch,” said Pryor. “There is a certain amount of debris you have to leave on a site.”
But Pryor said bringing wood fibre to a pellet plant wood be much prefered to burning.
“It’s a cost, it’s a liability, it’s bad for the environment and it looks bad on us,” he said. “There’s not much good to burning except it cleans up the site.”
Pryor said the Valemount Community Forest is waiting to learn more.
“We’re taking baby steps. When they buy the industrial lands, that gives us confidence they are serious,” he said.
Pryor has also been in discussion with other producers of torrefied pellets about opportunities in the area.