September 19, 2013
By Nici Darychuk, RA and Technician at the Pulp and Paper Centre
This September, eleven researchers from the Pulp and Paper Centre took a road trip to the beautiful Kootenay region of British Columbia. The destination was one of the largest and most modern single line kraft pulp mills in North America, the Zellstoff Celgar mill in Castlegar, B.C. Celgar is one of three mills operated by the Mercer International Group, which is the world’s 2nd largest producer of NBSK pulp.
After being engaged in research collaborations with Celgar over several months, PPC researchers jumped at the opportunity to see the mill in action and a mill tour was organized. After a scenic drive across southern B.C. and a night of camping, we arrived at the mill on a blustery Friday morning. After giving us a presentation that included an overview of the mills history and operations, an engineer with management experience shared his perspectives on the different roles within the operation. We donned our safety gear, and then were escorted though the many different parts of the mill’s operation by a process engineer, with lots of information and questions shared along the way.
Celgar was originally built in 1960, and a modernization project was completed in 1993. This mill uses an exceptionally diverse multi-species fibre basket pulled from the Kootenay region to currently produce one grade of NBSK for customers worldwide, with a focus on Asia. Not only does Celgar produce an average of 1450 ADMT/day of NBSK, it is also a net producer of green electricity. Their $64.9M Green Energy Project, completed in 2010, included the installation of a second steam turbine generator, double their generating capacity. The mill produces around 75 MW of green power – using 40 MW for operations, and, thanks to an agreement with BC Hydro, is able to sell the remaining electricity back into the grid at preferential green rates.
All of the mill personnel were very approachable and open to our many questions. They are genuinely enthusiastic about their work and their future, and made a good case for the benefits of the small town lifestyle offered by the area. Many in our group are interested in the control aspect of mill operations, so we had a nice chat with the control room operators – who incidentally have the best view in the industry, of the Columbia River flowing beneath the control room window.
I was particularly impressed by the fact that a consistent grade is achieved through the mixing of seven local tree species, by the pulp machine, by the extensive green power generation, and by the friendliness and positivity of the employees. I found myself inspired to visit more mills, and could see myself working in a place like Celgar one day.
As I am local to the Kootenay region, I got to share with my colleagues the best that the area has to offer. After visiting the mill, we relaxed at Ainsworth Hot Springs, unwinding in the hot pools and exploring the steamy limestone caves. We camped at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park and witnessed the spectacle of the gorgeous red Kokanee salmon spawning steps away from our campsite. We also visited my favourite restaurant in Nelson, the 115 year old heritage landmark, the Hume Hotel. This visit was organized and partially funded by the TAPPI Student Chapter at UBC (TISC-UBC). Many thanks to TISC and to Professors James Olson, Mark Martinez and Sheldon Green for supporting this memorable trip, and especially to the staff at Zellstoff Celgar mill.