Canadian Pulp Mill Moves To In-Field Chipping

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Peace River Pulp restructures operations, to deploy 9 Peterson Pacific machines as portable chip plants.

PEACE RIVER, Alberta — Because aspen is 50% water, chipping aspen stems in winter is “like chipping an ice cube,” said Joerg Goetsch. Or, at least it was.

Joerg is the woodland superintendent for the Peace River Pulp Division of Daishowa-Marubeni International. He recently persuaded his superiors to restructure Peace River’s operations. The changes mean using equipment that makes short work of chipping frozen aspen.

The company is deploying nine Peterson Pacific DDC 5000-G machines, which delimb stems, remove the bark, and process them into chips. Peterson Pacific, based in Eugene, Ore., refers to its DDC 5000-G as a ‘portable chip plant,’ and that is how they will be used on Peace River harvesting sites. The Peterson Pacific DDC 5000-G simultaneously delimbs, debarks and then chips whole trees from 2-23 inches in diameter. The machine can produce 100 tons of chips per hour.

The Peterson Pacific machines are being phased in at Peace River Pulp Division over two and one-half years. Two are already operating.

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By 2005, transporting round wood will be history at Peace River Pulp Division. No wood will move any greater distance from where it stood as a tree than to the nearest Peterson Pacific DDC 5000-G. The whole-tree processors are strictly designed for in-field chipping operations.

“If you want to really save money in forestry,” said Joerg, “take out handling phases completely.” As a consequence of the conversion to in-field chipping, Joerg estimated that the number of steps required to convert standing timber to chips will be reduced dramatically.

Joerg has been with his employer for 11 years. A native of Germany who emigrated to Canada in 1980, he is a graduate of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and a Registered Professional Forester. Joerg attended a Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC) meeting in 2000 when he and another conferee started brainstorming about portable chippers and their potential. Joerg had never seen a chipper that was up to the task of in-field work. The colleague told him about in-field chipping operations of Bowater Paper Co. in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Joerg went to Thunder Bay to have a look, and he liked what he saw. Soon, he had a trial set up in Peace River. The mill had long used Peterson Pacific equipment in the yard but had never experimented with in-field chipping.

During the try-out, Joerg discovered the Peterson Pacific DDC 5000-G has some features that make chipping possible — even chipping wood with a heavy moisture content like aspen in sub-freezing temperatures. For one thing, the machines offer variable chain flail speeds; using a higher chain flail speed is one option for removing frozen aspen bark without damaging the wood fiber, too.

Joerg explained that the Peterson Pacific DDC 5000-G machines that will be in use at Peace River in winter have the “northern option”or “the largest sheave possible.” Consequently, instead of having a line speed of 110 feet per minute, the trees are fed at only 80 feet per minute, which allows the flail chain sufficient time to remove the toughest bark.

Implementing and operating the Peterson Pacific DDC 5000-G Delimber/Debarker/Chipper machines is expected to provide the company with numerous benefits. First and foremost, they will reduce a number of material handling processes associated with separate operations for delimbing, debarking and chipping — various steps for moving, loading and offloading wood. “I eliminate 12 actual handling steps,” said Joerg, from 17 to five.

In-field chipping also increases fiber recovery and utilization gain, said Joerg. He has calculated the increase in yield in several different ways. “The whole tree goes through the chipper,” he said, “right down to the 2-inch top.” Utilizing the whole tree should increase volume 15%, he estimated. Chip production should increase, too. Previously, as trees made their way to the wood room from the debarker and the delimber, 6-8% of usable fiber was routinely lost, said Joerg — fiber that already was paid for since loggers are paid for the delivered load.

The Peterson Pacific machines also are expected to contribute to improved chip quality because of their ability to remove bark. Because of the presence of scleroid or hardened cells in bark, ink will not adhere to them in paper. “The less bark we have in the process,” Joerg explained, “the more valuable the chips are going to be.”

Competition in the global market and technology are other factors spurring pulp companies to go to in-field chipping, Joerg explained. “Like every other pulp mill,” he said, “we’re competing on a global market.” Poplar and aspen once were coveted by paper companies because they grow very slowly; as a result, their long fibers performed well on high-speed paper machines. They were more desirable than fast-growing species like Eucalyptus that have short fibers.

That has all changed, however. Now, computer technology compensates for vibrations on paper machines so that fast-growing, species with short fibers are just as good as slow-growing trees that produce long fibers. Competition has been heightened. Since portable chippers are the norm for processing Eucalyptus trees in Brazil, pulp mills at high latitudes have no choice but to convert to the same technology.

There is another benefit worth mentioning. During the peak logging period, a 120-day ‘window’ in winter, about 33,000 truck-loads of round wood are delivered to the mill at Peace River. The trucks obtain over-weight permits in winter to make the haul cost-effective. In-field chipping reduces overall truck traffic, and chip trucks do not require over-weight permits. With swamp and clay-based soil predominating in the region of Alberta where harvesting is done, winter is the best time for logging. About 1.5 million cubic meters of wood is trucked in during a period of only 90-100 days, said Joerg. Another 200,000 cubic meters heads to a satellite yard in the interval. The portable chipping plant model will allow chips to be produced and trucked in all year, eliminating inventory control and storage issues, said Joerg.

Joerg is providing contract loggers with three-year contracts and is assisting them in making the transition from long logging to field chipping. Loggers have a choice of feller-bunchers and a choice of skidders as long as the skidders are “really big,” said Joerg. “At this point in time we believe that the Peterson Pacific chippers are the only chippers that can meet our chip quality specifications,” he said.

High efficiency production with portable chipping removes a source of hog fuel for the Peace River plant. Joerg has been working with local mills, encouraging them to eliminate their beehive burners and provide replacement hog fuel to Daishowa-Marubeni International. This reduces fire risk at the sawmills as well as permit fees, burner maintenance and ash disposal costs, and they do not have to worry about air emissions requirements.

Joerg first had to persuade company management that his idea was sound. He went to Japan to present his proposal to shareholders of Daishowa-Marubeni. Final approval came early this year. Besides the Peace River Pulp Division, Daishowa-Marubeni International is a partner in Cariboo Pulp and Paper in Quesnel, British Columbia.