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By Kevin Hogan on August 25 2017
Before beginning my work term, I had briefly learned about the pulp and paper process at school. For example, one part of the process I learned about is called counter-current jump stage washing, which happens in the bleaching stage of the pulping process. Counter-current washing describes a way of washing the pulp in between bleaching stages. The last stage of washing, when the pulp is the “cleanest”, is done with clean water. This water is then used in the previous stage of washing, which continues until the “dirtiest” water is used in the first stage of washing. Using this method of washing, water is conserved, saving money, energy, and reducing the environmental impact of the operation.
We also touched on the overall pulp and paper process, giving me a general idea of pulp mill operations, but I was unaware of the scale of power generated by a pulp mill. One of the most interesting and surprising things that I have learned while working at Canfor is the amount of bio-electricity the pulp mills in Prince George produce, and how integral this is to the operation as a whole.
Before we start talking about some of the numbers associated with power generation at the mills, I think it is important to touch on how this generation happens. After wood chips have gone through the digesters, the white liquor that was used to break down the chips has now become black liquor, containing organic matter, known as lignin, that held the chips together, and the chips have become brownstock, a slurry of fiber and water, which is further processed to eventually become the pulp that is sold to customers. The black liquor and brown stock are separated through a washing process. The black liquor is first concentrated to increase the solids content, and then burned in one of two recovery boilers. Also, bark from saw mills along with larger rejects from the chip screens are combined to form a mix known as hog fuel, which is burned in the power boiler. The heat from these boilers is used to generate steam, which is then used in the process or sent to one of two turbo-generators to generate electricity. The generated electricity is used internally in other parts of the process or sent back to the BC electricity network.
Now for a few statistics, because what kind of engineering student would I be with no numbers in this blog? In 2016, 985,741 MWh of electricity was generated from the four biomass turbine generators at Canfor’s three pulp mills in Prince George. This and other aspects of sustainability at Canfor can be found in the Sustainability Report, published yearly 1.
But what does 985,741 MWh of electricity actually represent? The average home in BC uses around 900 kWh of electricity per month 2, which equates to 10800 kWh per year. That means that the combined generation of the mills in Prince George could power over 90,000 homes in one year! Again, not all of the generated electricity from the mills is exported to the electricity network, but I think this helps to give some meaning and scale to the electricity statistic. How does this tie into Canadian energy production? In 2013, wood and wood waste accounted for 24% of the total renewable energy production in Canada, the second largest share behind hydro 3.
Learning about this has been very eye opening for me. When I first came to work at Canfor, I was excited to learn about the pulp and paper process, as it contains so many of the concepts I had learned at school in a real life application. After learning about the energy generation side of the operation, I find it even more exciting to have the opportunity to work here as a co-op student. Waking up every morning and knowing you are helping to contribute to a green operation is a very good feeling, and I hope that seeing these facts, more students become interested in pursuing jobs and careers in this industry. If you are anything like me, you’ll find it is an interesting and motivating industry to work in.
Work life balance. Something we as students hear time and time again when considering potential jobs and companies to work for. One of the best things about my time at Canfor has been the work life balance this job provides. For my job, and many of the other jobs at Canfor’s pulp mills, we work 10 hours per day, four days a week, meaning every weekend is a three day weekend. This results in 32 more days throughout the course of my 8 month work term (crazy, right?). I’ve been trying to take advantage of this by exploring not only Prince George but also the areas around here, and last weekend I joined two of my friends, Marc Caruth and Nick Groome, both co-op students at Canfor, on the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park. The backcountry guide for the trail, which contains general info, a map, suggested itineraries, and campsite locations and information, can be found here: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/jasper/activ/passez-stay/arrierepays-backcountry/sugg-sentiers_trip-ideas/Skyline.
We began our journey on Thursday night after getting off work. We left Prince George at around 7pm, and drove the 424 km (from my house) to Maligne Lake, and arrived at around 1am local time, as we lost one hour due to the time change from BC to Alberta. We slept overnight beside the parking lot, and woke up to a crisp morning with blue skies overhead. Walking down to the lake, I was absolutely in awe of what we saw. There was only one boat out at the time, and with the blue skies and clear views, it was absolutely stunning. Views like this are common in the areas surrounding Prince George. Mount Robson, a 3 hour drive, and Jasper, a 4-5 hour drive, are two amazing hiking, camping, and sightseeing destinations.
We hiked the trail from South to North, so we began the trail at the Maligne Lake trailhead, and ended at the Signal Mountain Trailhead. The morning we began the hike, Marc dropped his car off at the Signal Mountain Trailhead and took a shuttle back to Maligne Lake. You can book shuttles online and view the schedule at https://maligneadventures.com/sightseeing/ (under Maligne Valley Hiker’s Shuttle). I would suggest booking well in advance.
We began hiking the trail at around 9am. The first bit of the hike was mainly uphill to get above the tree line. Once we were above the tree line, the views of the surrounding area were amazing.
At the end of the day, when we were approaching the Curator campsite (suggested site for people hiking the trail in two days), we came to a fork in the trail, with one path leading us to Curator Lake and the remainder of the trail, and the other leading down to the campsite. After a few minutes of consideration, we decided to visit the lake before calling it a day. When we got to the lake, we somehow collectively decided that going swimming would be a great idea, even with the lack of sun the end of the day had provided. I wish I could say I jumped right in enthusiastically, but in reality I spent about five minutes contemplating what we were about to do, and screamed like a small child after jumping in the frigid water. Overall, it was a great experience, and although I would not suggest swimming in Curator Lake, I am very happy that we ended our day with this.
After setting up camp and having dinner, we fell asleep at around 7pm that night, and set up our alarms for 6am the next morning. We woke up once again to blue skies and a slightly chilly morning, but with the first stretch of trail that day being 2 km with a 500 m elevation gain, we knew we would warm up very fast. Hiking up past Curator Lake once again, we were treated to a view with a beautiful alpine glow, which continued until we made it up “The Notch”, the highest point on the trail. Spotting another small peak that provided a small elevation gain from this spot, we took our bags off and ran up to enjoy the view. With the crisp mountain air, picturesque views, and the best adventure buddies a guy could ask for, this was truly an amazing morning.
Continuing our day, we travelled along a ridgeline for quite some time, understanding now where the “Skyline” name comes from. We then cruised down some switchbacks, losing elevation on our approach to the next campsite, Tekarra, under the tree line once again. We were under the impression that the remainder of the hike would be downhill, but were surprised when we were faced with another uphill hike after the campsite for about half an hour. The last bit of the hike was enjoyable, but for anyone who knows how it is to hike very long distances in a short time with a large pack on, our moral started to drop, our bodies started to ache, and we longed for the end of the trail. When we finally made it back to Marc’s car, we were bagged. With our extra few escapades both days, and what we would guess was inaccuracy in the trail map, we estimated that we hiked 50 km over both days, and hiked for around 6.5 hours the second day, with only a short stop for a snack. Stopping in McBride on the way home, I finished a 950 mL Gatorade in about 30 seconds, glad for some extra electrolytes. One thing I would do better if I were to do this or another long distance hike in the future would be to drink more water. Dehydration can have dangerous effects on your body, and is not something to take lightly. Overall, this was one of the most beautiful and most enjoyable hikes I have ever done. And with the three day weekend, we arrived back on Saturday night, allowing us to recover and get ready for the week ahead on Sunday.
I hope that by sharing these experiences I have shed some light on the lifestyle that you can have living in Prince George. I cannot say enough good things about living here. For those of you that are reluctant to step out of your comfort zone, especially those students who go to school in the Lower Mainland and do not want to pursue a co-op job outside of that area, I want to share with you a quote that holds a lot of truth and importance to me.
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. – Mark Twain
To me, I’ve always interpreted this quote as meaning that when you feel like you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time, and are comfortable with your routine, maybe it is time to change it up and do something new. This quote resonated deeply with me last year when I decided to go on exchange to Denmark, which I can say was the best four months of my life, where I learned and experienced things I never would have imagined, and grew as a person in ways I never would have expected. With the prospect of taking this job at Canfor, I was nervous about making such a big change with moving to Prince George, but I am so happy that I did so. I have an interesting job at a company where I’m surrounded by supportive, intelligent, and fun people. I’ve met some great new friends, and I’ve been able to do some amazing outdoor activities. We learn the most when we step out of our comfort zone, and I encourage others to go out and do so. I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Until next time,