Richard Spinks did not invent Nova Scotia’s Plan B to replace the lost market for “low value wood” 1Mar2020

B for Biomass, Biofuel, Bioplastics, Biorefinery, Bioeconomy…

The first versions of Plan B emerged when the Bowater mill closed in 2012. It is still alive and well, mostly  behind closed doors.

The Chronicle Herald seems to think that the Grandiose Scheme to replace the lost market for “low value wood”  in NS following the demise of The Mill began with British-born entrepreneur Richard Spinks recent proposal to  build a wood-pellet mill in Pictou County  – “He thinks a wood-pellet mill could use all the chips Northern Pulp bought, perhaps more, and could find a market in Europe”.

However, an equally grandiose Plan B which involves some combination and permutation of Biomass, Bioplastics,  Biofuel, Biorefinery and Bioeconomy and the like has been hanging around  since the closure of the Bowater Mill in 2012 and before, pushed by Company Men who move back and forth between the Companies and government and NSDNR/L&F in particular as the companies fare better and worse.

View a history of Plan B on NSFN  under Current Issues>BIOMASS/BIOFUELS & GHGs>Plan B/Biorefinery.

The history of Plan B,  in brief

One of the Company men is Alan Eddy (onetime a senior forester with NS Power, ex Associate Deputy Minister of NSDNR and Agriculture Fisheries and Aquaculture, ex Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Finance and Treasury Board now  manager of business development for Port Hawkesbury Paper), a long-standing advocate of biomass energy and related products. At the recent Forest Nova Scotia meeting, Eddy “talked about that mill’s [Port Hawkesbury Paper] plans for an eco-industrial park. The idea is to attract other businesses with similar interests to set up shop on the mill’s 120-hectare campus and be able to feed off one another for energy and other potential efficiencies” – CBC Feb 12, 2020

That sounds a lot like the language used to describe the “Forestry Innovation Centre” that Dexter & Co., with the collaboration of Bowater/Renova Scotia Bioenergy’s Jon Porter, set up in Brooklyn after the collapse of the former Bowater Mersey paper mill in 2012.  (In 2014, the new Liberal Government brought Porter  to NSDNR as Director of Renewable Resources where he remains today.)

Our federal and provincial governments sunk a lot of cash into their firstborn – Cellufuel – which promised to turn lumber into “renewable biofuel”. Cellufuel sold the investors (including our elected reps) on its plan  “to open a demonstration biofuel facility in Brooklyn, Queens County, this [2013] summer…just the first step of an ambitious industrial enterprise intent on having 10 plants within five to six years producing $200 million in annual revenue” (Chronicle Herald Jan 14, 2013, no longer available, but see Tree Frog Forestry News for the Intro).

The Forestry Innovation Centre re-emerged as the Innovacorp Forestry Innovation Hub in 2016 with involvement of Emera (parent of NS Power) and others

A principal consultant to the project, Rod Badcock, said the government partners and Emera had formed a governance committee to guide the work, which was being done by an informal partnership, in which he plays a principal role.

Badcock described the hub model as “flexible” and in a telephone interview he agreed it was not “straight-forward.”

He said the two partners providing key services to the project were Bioapplied Innovation Pathways, which is itself a private partnership, and FPInnovations, a not-for-profit research institute serving the forestry industry in Canada.

…One the objectives of the hub partners is to find domestic markets for new industrial products, such as biofuel, which may be processed from wood fibre.

Emera, which indirectly owns the province’s two major biomass plants, seems attracted to the commercial prospects for diverting low grade wood to higher value products at a time when there is less demand for burning biomass to produce electricity.

View Value Proposition for a Biorefinery Sector in Nova Scotia by BioApplied & FPInnovations, Jan 2017 for more details, including the NS government players (Jon Porter, Alan Eddy and others).

Somehow or another, things didn’t quite work out, and Cellufuel “paused operations” at its Brookylyn demonstration plant in July of 2017, citing government policy issues and “the left” as the problem:

There’s more wood in the province than ever before, but there is a strong lobby from the left of the spectrum pushing for some of the most prohibitive restrictions in the country…there’s large sections of the forest that are completely inactive…there’s no problem with fibre supply in Nova Scotia, it’s more commercial and/or public policy that’s restricting its flow to the market. –  Cellufuel CEO Chris Hooper

At  NSDNR, it seems that the supporters of a biorefinery went out of their way to  keep it out of the headlines. You don’t hear it mentioned at all now at L&F, but that’s because  government support for development of a biorefinery shifted from NSDNR to Mines and Energy when DNR was split up and a new department of Lands and Forestry was announced (July 5, 2018).  Apparently it remains alive and well at Mines and Energy:

From a screen-capture. Click on image to go to source

Plan B: not home-grown 

Biorefineries and the like are not the brainwaves of local entrepreneurs, although they are usually presented as such. They have been pushed by Big Forestry interests nationally, inside and outside of government and somewhere in-between, and notably  by FPInnovations.   As cited above, FPInnovations was involved the NS Innovation Hub.

FPInnovations efforts appear to be paying off, but not in Nova Scotia, and without mention of their Nova Scotian partners, e.g., view

The dawning of a next-generation biorefinery
FP Innovations Blog Sep 12, 2017

FPInnovations and Resolute inaugurate biorefinery pilot in Thunder Bay
Alan Sherrard in May 29, 2019

One has to wonder about the relationships between the Big Forestry interests of central and western Canada and those of Nova Scotia. Do the former  know anything about the nature of forests and forestry in Nova Scotia and how damaging the industrial methods applied to Canada’s truly big and extensive and mostly boreal forests have been to our very different, much more limited, multi-aged and old-growing Acadian forests? Not only applied to them, but applied more intensively  than elsewhere in Canada?

Or do they know but don’t care and take advantage of a certain naivety of  their Nova Scotian colleagues and their over-willingness to believe Nova Scotia can lead a revolution in industrial forestry and shell out accordingly from the public purse?

Or do I just still do not understand the fundamentals of forests and forestry in NS and shouldn’t be concerned about it?

I dunno, but I scratch my head a lot about it.

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