Resolute Forest Products Inc. has begun production in its commercial-scale facility for cellulose filaments at its Kénogami paper mill in Saguenay, Que.
Cellulose filaments are mechanically processed without chemicals or enzymes and are manufactured entirely from wood fibre, resulting in a low carbon footprint. They can be used as a natural additive in a variety products. Resolute says test results have been promising in concrete as well as packaging applications, where it can be used to make 100 per cent biosourced and fully recyclable translucent film, displacing traditional plastic film.
“The origin (comes from) one of our partners FPInnovations. They're a not-for-profit R&D outfit, essentially a member base for the forest products industry. They essentially, almost by accident, stumbled on how to make the product in the early 2010s. So we knew about that basic technology, what they ended up patenting and we followed it,” Alain Bourdages, Resolute’s vice-president of innovation and energy, told SustainableBiz.
"Resolute found that it had particular skillset, equipment, knowledge about how to use the process that they've invented to make this new product, and we'd be able to commercialize it better than most.”
The facility is expected to produce up to 21 tonnes of cellulose filaments per day.
Resolute’s cellulose filament facility
Headquartered in Montreal, Resolute produces a variety of wood, pulp, tissue and paper products, which are marketed in 60 countries. The company operates approximately 40 facilities, as well as power generation assets, in the U.S. and Canada and says its managed woodlands are third-party certified to internationally recognized sustainable forest management standards.
First announced in 2020, the $27 million facility was part of a $38 million investment in the company's Kénogami mill. As part of the development, Resolute licensed the technology from FPInnovations.
“But there's a lot of adaptation,” Bourdages explained. The company has fine-tuned the process in the patent to work within its facility, at scale, for the product it is producing.
The new product line is expected to create about 30 jobs in addition to the approximately 200 existing jobs at the mill.
The wood fibre is sourced from the same forest that supplies the paper mill, slightly north of its location.
“It's completely new for Resolute. It's essentially an extension of what we currently do. We were very knowledgeable in making craft pulp. So in this case, we essentially apply a similar process to the craft pulp to turn it into the cellulose filaments. So in terms of process, it's not completely foreign to us,” Bourdages said.
“That the interest that we've developed over the years. But the product is completely new. The markets, for the most part are completely new. And therein lies the challenge.”
While the facility will utilize Quebec’s clean hydro power, the exact carbon reductions would depend on what products the filaments are used for. As Bourdages explained, it would simply be an additive in the concrete, where replacing plastic film with a wholly biodegradable, natural material would result in much higher reductions.
Cellulose filament market application
Having worked on the cellulose filament application for about a decade, Resolute has also done a significant amount of the groundwork for potential customers.
The difficulty in the past, Bourdages said, was that when customers would receive samples and their interest piqued, they would inevitably request higher quantities. That had not always been possible to supply.
“The production at scale allows us to now validate all the steps and iron out the kinks, because there inevitably will be when you run something at a larger scale. We'll have feedback from those customers,” he said.
“Because this is not a plug-and-play product, right? It's a specialty additive. So we'll have to work together with our customers to make it work. But that's the nature of the beast in this environment.”
Resolute is working with Vancouver-based pulp producer Mercer International Inc. (MERC-Q) to commercialize non-traditional applications for the product. The companies have established a 50/50 joint venture, Performance Biofilaments Inc.
Potential applications for the cellulose mentioned on its website include improving paints, protective coatings, adhesives, sealants as well as strengthening polymers, composites and foams.
The possibility of expansion was also discussed, but that is dependent on how quickly Resolute is able to fill its current market capacity.