Norwegian supplier of silicon-based materials Elkem has decided to invest in a new biocarbon pilot plant in Canada. 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. The technology also has potential for application in other industry sectors, contributing to reduced CO2 emissions.
The total investment for the pilot plant amounts to NOK180 million. The project has received financial support from the Canadian government, the Québec government and the city of Saguenay, reducing Elkem’s net investment to NOK60 million. The plant will be constructed near Elkem’s production site in Chicoutimi, Quebec, Canada, with 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.
“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,” says CEO of Elkem, Michael Koenig.
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 Elkem’s sustainable production strategy. Elkem already uses close to 20% biocarbon in its production in Norway and the company is working towards increasing this to 40% by 2030. Elkem sources 83% of its of electricity consumption from renewable energy.
Elkem also sees a future potential for biocarbon technology to be customised for use in the steel industry, as a replacement for coke as reduction agent. The company is searching for partners for industrialization of the technology.
The pilot plant will source raw materials from local sawmills in Canada, including recycled bark, wood chips, sawdust and wood shaves. This will create new business opportunities within the circular economy and create new green jobs. More than 2 million Green tons (Gt) of potential raw material is already produced within 100 km of the Chicoutimi area in Quebec.
“The Government of Canada continues to invest in emerging clean technologies that support the competitiveness of our forestry sector while creating a clean energy future,” says Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O’Regan.
“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,” says Jean Villeneuve, Elkem’s Head of Biocarbon Business.
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’s plant in Paraguay achieved 100% sustainable biocarbon in its production of ferrosilicon as a pioneer plant in Elkem and the metals industry.