There is a rapidly growing demand for bioproducts from sustainably harvested, renewable resources. With the increasing controversy over producing sugars from food sources such as corn, beets, and sugar cane, the market has shown a strong interest in the next generation of sugars (2G sugars) that are obtained from non-food, sustainably harvested biomass sources. With over 40% of the world’s certified forests, Canada is uniquely positioned with wood and wood residue as an attractive feedstock to meet this demand in a more environmentally responsible manner and without having an impact on food supply.
With the demand for pulp and paper in North America on the downturn, FPInnovations jumped at the opportunity to not only feed into the bioproducts market, but to also breathe life into the pulp and paper industry by developing an alternative revenue source utilizing idled facilities and creating jobs. The research team at FPInnovations has been working on a TMP-Bio process to convert hardwood into a mixed sugar stream and a hydrolysis lignin (H-lignin) stream that will, in turn, be used to produce high-value bioproducts.
The solid understanding of the process and equipment obtained by the research team enabled them to develop a modified CTMP/TMP (chemi-thermal mechanical pulping/thermal mechanical pulping) process, accompanied by enzymatic hydrolysis, for the production of 2G sugars and H-lignin. This TMP-Bio process is unique in its treatment of biomass, which combines a mild chemical treatment and low-temperature mechanical refining, resulting in clean sugar and high-quality H-lignin streams.
To date, the TMP-Bio technology has been proven at laboratory and small pilot scales. Currently, FPInnovations’ facility in Pointe-Claire, QC produces one to two tonnes of sugar per year. The proposed large-scale pilot plant, to be built at FPInnovations’ facilities hosted by Resolute Forest Products in Thunder Bay, Ont., would have a nameplate capacity of processing 100 metric tonnes of biomass per year. The objectives of this project are to de-risk subsequent scale-up and commercialization stages by:
• understanding the behaviour of key process unit operations sized for commercial production, to enable the effective design and build of larger units;
• providing larger samples to potential end-users to not only help confirm market needs, but to also reassure potential customers that the product from an eventual commercial plant will perform as promised; and
• garnering interest in building a commercial plant and providing feedback to the research and development community as they support commercialization.
The TMP-Bio Value
The 2G sugars produced will be converted by companies into intermediate chemicals, most commonly lactic or succinic acid. These platform chemicals are then transformed into a broad range of products such as polyurethanes, paints, plastics, textiles, cosmetics, and personal care products.
Unlike the sugar streams, H-lignin can be used as a biomaterial itself. It is also relatively new and applications for it are currently being developed in the lab. Just like any other lignocellulosic biomass biorefinery process, finding and developing high-value lignin products and applications are critical to the economic feasibility of TMP-Bio.
Once scaled-up, the market potential of the opportunity amounts to $1.6 billion per year in sales of bio-based platform products and potentially to a cumulative maximum of $2.5 billion in equipment sales over the next 13 years. It will provide new pathways to large-scale production of bioproducts from certified Canadian forest resources, giving the forest industry access to new, growing bioproducts’ markets and representing a major economic opportunity for the nation. “TMP-Bio will deliver transformative technology contributing to the bioeconomy,” claims Zhirun Yuan, Research Manager, Biorefinery. “Moreover, it will contribute to restoring the financial health of the Canadian forest sector by generating diversified products and alternative revenue sources, which will resuscitate idle mill towns and pulp and paper assets, while also putting underutilized wood species to use.”
Working Together Towards a Bioeconomy
Leading the development of the technology, FPInnovations is in the process of finalizing agreements with consortium partners that will be the first to commercialize the technology and supply the equipment on a commercial scale.
With the burgeoning global bioeconomy, bioproducts such as 2G sugars and H-lignin are rapidly growing in importance as the market seeks non-fossil and non-food alternatives. Canada’s forests are an abundant source of biomass—biomass that presents many opportunities for applications of bioproducts, biochemicals, and biomaterials. The substantial growth potential and projected market size of these bioproducts make it a very exciting time for the Canadian forest sector and for the key players involved.
For more information, contact Zhirun Yuan.
This article was originally published in the 2016-2017 IMPACT magazine.