Norway-based Elkem, one of the world's leading suppliers of silicon-based advanced materials, will build a biocarbon pilot plant in Chicoutimi, Quebec, Canada. Construction is expected to begin in the second half 2020.
According to Elkem officials based on conclusions from the pilot, which is expected to cost just over C$26 million and $19.7 million U.S., the company will evaluate the basis for a full-scale plant. The project has received financial support from the Canadian government, the Québec government and the city of Saguenay, reducing Elkem's net investment by two-thirds.
"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 per cent biocarbon in its production in Norway and the company is working towards increasing this to 40 per cent by 2030. Elkem sources 83 per cent of its electricity consumption from renewable energy.
Elkem said it also sees a 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.
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 kilometres 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.