The Mothership

A view of the Holmes River near McBride. One of the many waterways I crossed en route to Quesnel.

Day 2: Tuesday July 4th, 2017

Today’s adventure takes me to Quesnel, BC also known as the ‘Mothership’ of West Fraser. Quesnel hosts the largest density of West Fraser Mills, with two pulp mills, one sawmill, one plywood plant, one MDF plant, their sales offices and their Canadian Operations office. That’s a lot of mills in one day, so I’ve broken up the Quesnel visits between July 4th and July 5th. Today I am visiting the two pulp mills in town; Cariboo Pulp and Paper and Quesnel River Pulp.

Quesnel, BC

The city of Quesnel is a quaint little town of 11,000 people, nestled between the Bowron Lakes and Nazko lava beds. Two major rivers wrap around and form the downtown core; the Quesnel River and the Fraser River. West Fraser Mills is neighbored by Tolko Industries and Canfor up until 2011. An hour east of Quesnel is the world heritage site known as Barkerville, close to Troll Mountain Ski resort and the artistic town of Wells. I may be a little biased as Quesnel has been my home since 2012, but there are so many neat things about this town to fall in love with. There’s the Billy Barker Days in July, Women’s Fall Challenge in October, The Farmer’s Market every Saturday and tons of festivals, art shows and outdoor activities interspersed throughout the year.

Cariboo Pulp and Paper (CPP), Quesnel BC

Cariboo Pulp and Paper is a Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft (NBSK) Pulp mill. This means that the wood chips are treated with bleaching chemicals such as chlorine to achieve that high brightness photo paper, specialty gloss papers, and tissue papers. Cariboo NBSK pulp is in demand around the world, and reputable for their superior quality and tensile properties. The mill was originally owned by Weldwood when West Fraser purchased it in 2004 in partnership with Daishowa-Marubeni International. CPP produces over 170,000 Metric tonnes of NBSK pulp per year, and exports primarily to North American and Asian markets.

Quesnel River Pulp (QRP), Quesnel BC

Quesnel River Pulp is a Bleached Chemical Thermo-Mechanical pulp (BCTMP) mill (say that five times fast). This means that the pulp producing process does not involve chlorine bleaches, but instead uses high pressure, heat, different chemicals and additional refining to process their pulp. QRP’s pulp is used in cardstock, coated boards, writing paper, paper towels and napkins. QRP is known for their versatility of pulp applications, pulp strength, and their biosolids contributions to agricultural practices and soil amendments. This mill produces 400,000 Metric tonnes of BCTMP annually, derived from lodge pole pine and white spruce. It has been originally owned and operated by West Fraser since 1979, employing my father, myself and now my younger sister throughout the last decade.

Here I am retrieving a sample of lime mud at Cariboo Pulp and Paper. Lime mud is a residual from the NBSK pulping process, and possesses some interesting properties that could help enrich nutrient poor soils.

This is lime mud after the water has been squeezed out of it. The texture resembles gray-grey playdoh and smells like rawhide dog bones. Similar to bone meal that you would use in your garden, this squishy lime mud could be used in a similar method for agricultural purposes or garden soil supplements.

Here I am checking out one of CPP’s many settling ponds, used in the aerobic treatment of their wastewater. These ponds use a diverse flora of microorganisms to eat and process the organics within the wastewater. Much like the bacteria found in our intestines, there is a combination of good colonies and bad colonies that need to be maintained for optimal effluent digestion.

This is a large type of ‘hog fuel’ that can be found at most sawmills, pulp mills, or any mill that handles and processes trees. This material is commonly used for animal bedding in the farming industry, specific to hogs; hence the name, “hog fuel”. It mainly contains bark, shavings, sawdust and small wood fibers and is very easy to incinerate for power generation. Once the beehive burners were decommissioned, in BC and Alberta, more efficient burners called power boilers were used. Power boilers can run solely on hog fuel and wood waste, which helps the forest industry to manage their surplus fiber, log yard debris, and dirtied hog scrapings.

This is a photo of QRP’s biosolids that are considered brown gold in the agriculture industry. Also referred to as ‘sludge’, this material is essentially the pulp fiber solids that are accumulated and rinsed out in the washing process. These solids are then dewatered and retrieved from the effluent stream, and trucked out farmers’ fields for land spreading. Biosolids look and feel similar to wet cardboard, but are packed full of essential minerals and available nutrients for plant growth.

Quesnel River Pulp is a BCTMP mill, so they treat their effluent a little differently than the NBSK mills. Part of their aerobic system involves a large agitation tank filled with growth media teeming with microorganisms and bacteria. By giving the bacteria a structure to live on, they maximize their surface area and shorten the amount of time that the effluent needs to remain in each tank. The filters pictured above are the ones that the bacteria grow on.

This is the view from the top of the QRP agitation tank, and you can see the black growth medias floating around in the effluent waste water. Lots of churning happens to ensure an equal distribution of oxygen, bacteria, and dissolved organics all get into contact with one another. The final effluent ends up much clearer than this, like weak iced tea, and is discharged into the Quesnel River.

This is a modern day view of Quesnel River Pulp.

2 Responses to The Mothership

  1. Gina Albers says:

    Lindsay, through your The Greenest Workforce blog, I’m learning the basics about some of West Fraser’s operations as well as the bio-products available. The photographs help greatly to understand the items you are describing. Thank you!

  2. Stuart Lebeck says:

    Great summaries Lindsay!

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