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Elkem secures governmental funding for a biocarbon pilot plant in Canada

Global suppliers of silicon-based advanced materials, Norway-headed Elkem ASA has announced that it will invest in a new biocarbon pilot plant in Canada. To be built at its wholly-owned subsidiary Elkem Métal Canada Inc. site in Chicoutimi, Québec (QC), the project aims to secure industrial verification of Elkem’s technology for renewable biocarbon, with a long-term goal of contributing to climate-neutral metal production.

Si-based ferroalloy (FeSi) is an alloy of silicon and iron and is an important additive in the manufacture of steel products. Silicon in the form of ferrosilicon is used to remove oxygen from the steel and as an alloying element to improve the final quality of the steel. Silicon increases strength and wear resistance, elasticity, scale resistance, lowers electrical conductivity and magnetostriction (photo courtesy Elkem).

According to Elkem, the total investment for the biocarbon pilot plant amounts to NOK 180 million (≈ EUR 16.85 million). The project has received financial support totaling CA$16.95 million from the Canadian government, the Québec government, and the City of Saguenay, reducing Elkem’s net investment to NOK 60 million (≈ EUR 5.62 million).

Elkem is one of the world’s leading companies in environmentally responsible manufacturing of metals and materials, and we believe that sustainable production is increasingly a competitive advantage with our customers. With this new biocarbon pilot plant in Canada, we aim to secure long-term access to low-cost, high-quality renewable biocarbon to replace fossil coal and further improve our competitive position for a sustainable future. In addition, we see a potential for scaling up this technology to other industries – helping reduce emissions, said Michael Koenig, CEO, Elkem.

Announced by Joël Lightbound, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Member of Parliament for Louis-Hébert, on behalf of Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan on September 8, 2020, CA$5 million in funding to Elkem Métal Canada is being provided through Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Growth Program.

This project advances Canada’s clean energy future and supports an economy built on ideas and ingenuity. Elkem Métal Canada has found a creative use for underused materials in the forest industry and is establishing Québec as a leader in renewable energy and sustainability, said Parliamentary Secretary Joël Lightbound.

This CA$155-million investment fund program invests in clean technology research and development projects in Canada’s energy, mining, and forest sectors assisting natural resource sectors and innovators come together to accelerate the development of clean technologies that reduce the impacts on air, land, and water while enhancing competitiveness and creating jobs.

Located in Québec

In addition, the Government of Québec is investing a total of CA$11.95 million in the project with CA$9.45 million coming from Technoclimat and CA$2.5 million from Innovation Bois programs respectively.

In addition to being very promising, this project is in line with many of our government’s priorities. With concrete results in reducing our carbon footprint, it will help us make progress in terms of the energy transition. Quebec is full of talent when it comes to developing solutions to make our entire province greener. For our government, it is essential to encourage such initiatives, and we are proud to be part of them, said Jonatan Julien Minister of Energy and Natural Resources and Minister Responsible for the Côte-Nord Region.

The funding will help support the manufacturing of biocarbon briquettes, a renewable alternative to metallurgical coal that can reduce the environmental impact of foundries and steelworks.

The biocarbon plant will be constructed near Elkem Métal Canada’s production site in Chicoutimi, Québec (QC) with the start of construction planned for the second half of 2020. Based on conclusions from the pilot, Elkem will evaluate the basis for a full-scale plant.

Enhance biomass value chain

The project is expected to enhance the value of forest biomass by providing the local forest sector with an opportunity to reuse biomass wastes, which are needed to manufacture biocarbon briquettes.

Over 2 million green tonnes (Gt) of potential raw material is already produced within 100 km of the Chicoutimi area, and the pilot plant will source raw materials from local sawmills, including recycled bark, woodchips, sawdust, and wood shavings.

Chipping logging residues at a forest landing site in Quebec. Elkem’s biocarbon pilot plant aims to utilise residual biomass from local sawmills.

This is expected to create new business opportunities within the circular economy and create new green jobs while increasing bioenergy and significantly reducing greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions.

Innovation and modernization are among the challenges facing Quebec’s forest products industry. By implementing strategies that will result in productivity gains, Elkem Métal Canada Inc. will contribute not only to the vitality of the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region but also to the prosperity of the entire Quebec economy. This explains the popularity of the Wood Innovation Program and its importance for the companies that benefit from it, said Pierre Dufour Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks and Minister Responsible for the Abitibi-Témiscamingue Region and the Nord-du-Québec Region.

Elkem Métal Canada intends to replace 43 000 tonnes of metallurgical coal used annually at its Chicoutimi plant, with 37 000 tonnes of biocarbon for a potential reduction of 100 000 tonnes of CO2 eq per annum.

With this project, Elkem establishes Quebéc as a hub for the creation and the development of a new strategic and promising industry: biocarbon. We are proud of doing it in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and with the complicity of the Government of Canada, the Government of Québec, and the City of Saguenay. And even more proud of being part of a project that will reduce our ecological footprint, generate significant economic benefits, and is widely supported, said Jean Villeneuve, President Elkem Métal Canada and Executive Director of Elkem’s Biocarbon Division.

Wider applications

With the new plant, Elkem will pilot an industrial biocarbon process tailor-made for silicon and ferrosilicon production. Using climate-neutral renewable biocarbon instead of fossil coal as a reduction agent is a key part of the company’s sustainable production strategy.

The company sources 83 percent of its electricity consumption from renewable sources and already uses close to 20 percent biocarbon in its production in Norway is working towards increasing this to 40 percent by 2030.

In addition to the Canada pilot plant, Elkem remains involved in several activities related to biocarbon, in Norway and other countries around the world. This includes work to develop competitive and sustainable sources of biocarbon as well as longer-term R&D projects.

In 2019, Elkem Paraguay’s plant in Limpio achieved 100 percent sustainable biocarbon in its production of ferrosilicon as a pioneer plant in Elkem and the metals industry.

The company also sees future potential for biocarbon technology to be customised for use in the steel industry, as a replacement for coke as a reduction agent. The company is searching for partners for industrialization of the technology.

Studies have shown that biocarbon can perform even better than fossil coal in production, and at the same time reduce the carbon footprint. Still, challenges remain to make biocarbon viable at a large scale, including how to optimise quality, how to customise furnaces for biocarbon, how to sustainably source raw materials, and how to minimise transportation. I am confident that Elkem’s new biocarbon pilot plant in Canada will help us solve these challenges, by enabling close cooperation between people at all levels of the organisation, from the operators who run the furnaces to the plant management, the procurement team, and R&D specialists including our partner Pyrovac. Together, we can accelerate a sustainable step-change that is both economically viable and good for the environment, ended Jean Villeneuve.

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