Domsjö Fabriker to build a gasification plant with Chemrec technology

Green Fuels - an alternative route forward

Clothes from viscose, sausage skins and kitchen cloths, all some of the products that are made from the specialty cellulose produced at Domsjö Fabriker, an innovative company with an early 20th century origin. Now Domsjö Fabriker, which prefers to describe itself as a biorefinery rather than a pulp mill, has begun a collaboration with Chemrec to build a gasification plant and start a new product line – renewable engine fuels.

“We are continuously seeking new products that we can produce in our biorefinery. Renewable fuels are products with a green profile, high market growth and with a high value addition to the wood raw material itself,” says company CEO Ola Hildingsson. “The whole world is now clamoring for renewable motor fuels. For us this is also a way of showing the forest industry that there are alternative routes forward.”

In September Domsjö and Chemrec were awarded an investment grant of SEK 500 million (€48 million, $73 million) to build an industrial-scale demonstration plant for gasification of the Domsjö black liquor and the production of renewable engine fuels. Today, Domsjö has three business areas: specialty cellulose, ethanol and lignosulfonate. A fourth business line will emerge with the production of renewable engine fuels. Two fuel products will be produced, bioDME and biomethanol. DME is an environmentally superior fuel for modified diesel engines while the primary use for methanol as fuel is as a renewable gasoline blend component or as a component of biodiesel.

Domsjö at the forefront
Chemrec has been discussing similar projects with several pulp producers. Domsjö has been the quickest in taking positive decisions. What is the reason for this?

“Domsjö has the right industrial structure in place; we believe in the technology and can see a strong business case for its implementation. Liquor gasification fits our company as a glove. We take new steps, we develop and we optimize,” says Hildingsson.

Domsjö and Chemrec began the project’s development a year ago. Gasification of the Domsjö liquor at the Chemrec DP-1 development plant was very successful and demonstrated the potential. The Domsjö liquor has an unusually high heat value due to the cellulose production process used.

Strong financial backing needed
The project cost is estimated to SEK 3000 million (€290 million, $440 million) and the process of establishing the financial structure for the project is now in full swing.  Discussions with possible investors or partners representing oil, chemical and forest companies are progressing; interest in the project from them is high.

”We are presuming that we will not get into fuel distribution. This is an area better suited for a refinery and fuel distribution company,” says Hildingsson.

Around year-end the extensive front-end engineering design phase will start and then continue into the autumn of 2010 when decision to start equipment procurement will be taken. At that point in time the full financial package must be ready. An early part of this process is the approval of the investment grant by the EU Directorate General for Competition. According to plan the biofuel plant can then be ready for production first half of 2013. The plant will have the capacity to provide fuel for more than 2000 heavy trucks.

Replacing the recovery boilers
Today the black liquor is recovered in two recovery boilers. The combustion of the liquor in the boilers generates steam and recovers the cooking chemicals. The steam is used to heat production processes of the mill. The boilers where originally built in 1959 and 1962 but where extensively modernized in the 1980s.


“Liquor gasification is an interesting alternative to combustion and the closed-loop chemicals recovery system of Domsjö can easily be integrated with gasification,” says project manager Sten Häggström. Here by the recovery boiler from 1960.

Sten Häggström, project manager, started working for Domsjö 30 years ago when he was doing research about the cellulose production processes. After nine years within the R&D area Sten moved on to a job as area manager with shift duty for the wood preparation and cooking plant and later became fiber production manager. He is now project manager and heavily engaged in the gasification project parallel with other projects at Domsjö.

Continued investment
In spite of the downturn in the global economy, Domsjö has continued investing. Within the investment program “Domsjö 2010”, which started in 2007, a total of SEK 500 million is invested. Completed in 2009, the last project within this program was a new ligosulfonate spray drying plant. In the development program also very substantial capacity increases are included as well as “soft” investments in leadership, co-workers and development of the organization.

Domsjö Fabriker keeps on investing. This is the new lignosulfonate spray drying plant completed earlier this year. Before, the mill delivered lignosulfonate derived from the spent pulping liquor in liquid form. Now the deliveries can be made in solid form making transportation more cost-efficient.

“We want to get even more out of the mill, in terms of products, product volumes and quality,” says Hildingsson. “We are continuously seeking new ways forward and are evaluating different ideas. The gasification project is a natural development step for us. We estimate that eventually renewable motor fuels will account for one third of our total revenue and the specialty cellulose half.”

A hotbed of development
Domsjö Fabriker is located at the outskirts of Örnsköldsvik, a town on the shore of the northern part of the Swedish east coast. The company has 340 employees in Sweden and 25 in the Baltic countries. The annual revenue is in the order of SEK 1.5 billion. The extensive mill area has been formed by a hundred years of industrial history – the mill was established here in 1903. Now the area is a hotbed of development where a range of companies are active and where cooperation is high on the agenda. The vision “The Biorefinery of the Future” includes that an increasing number of products are to be produced from renewable forestry feedstock. The companies are not integrated only through the product flow and their competence but also by common utilities including energy and water supply, and waste water biological treatment.

 “We have a very favorable industrial environment with a high level of competence and with intercompany contacts inspiring us to continue the development. It is probably unique in the forest industry and will be to our advantage when we start our big project”, says Hildingsson. “Cooperation exists not only between the companies but also with the municipality and Umeå University, spurring development through what is often referred to as the Triple Helix concept.”

The environmental issue always in focus
There has throughout the existence of the mill existed awareness about the environmental issues. Domsjö is the only mill globally with a fully developed closed-loop bleach plant without any discharge whatsoever. Domsjö was also first globally to produce fully bleached cellulose totally without the use of chlorine compounds. Waste water from the mill is treated biologically in a plant that also produces biogas. Since the company was acquired 10 years ago by a group of private investors, the company has received numerous environmental awards. With the new owners and management the mill has been transformed into an advanced biorefinery with the environment in focus.

“Oil is a non-renewable resource and will with time get even more expensive. The world needs new, green motor fuels,” continues Hildingsson. “Gasification of black liquor gives very energy-efficient, green motor fuels. Our development direction is completely in line with the policy objectives of the EU. The intermediate product syngas as well as the methanol are interesting products in their own right and we will build competence around these intermediates within our company.”

Strong local support for the project

With a century-old presence in the local community – and the important role that the company plays for the employment in the area – it is not surprising that locals show a positive interest in the project. Hildingsson says that he often receives spontaneous expressions of support in the streets of Örnsköldsvik. And creating positive relationships, bringing attention to the accomplishments of others and building both their self-confidence and belief in the future are characteristics of him. This, together with the continuous improvement of efficiency at the mill and a large measure of courage and creativity of its management helps to explain the success of Domsjö.

“Building an enterprise requires commitment, knowledge and a sense for business. And above all, you truly need to like working with people. Daily communication is the foundation – it makes people feel they are an important part of the enterprise,” says Hildingsson.

Ola Hildingsson has been CEO of Domsjö Fabriker since 2005 and has 35 years of experience in the forestry industry. He had worked for 20 years with forest-industry giant SCA, Europe’s largest private forest owner, where he thrived and had intended to stay. It was a great leap to join a company as fundamentally different as Domsjö, but he has never regretted the move, he says:

“In a smaller company it is easier to develop the entrepreneurial spirit. Decision paths are shorter and the time from idea to execution is much shorter. And there is no correlation between the size of a company and its profitability, at least not in our industry sector.”

Text & photos: Elisabeth Kempemo, Logos Kommunikation

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Unique process with closed cycle

Domsjö Fabriker is no longer identifying itself as a pulp mill. “We are a biorefinery, says Ola Hildingsson. “With this we mean that we utilize as much as possible of the components of the wood raw material while taking the greatest possible environmental care.” The Domsjö process is one-of-a-kind globally. While it is a sulfite process, it uses sodium as the base. The raw material is softwood only, Swedish and imported, and the cellulose bleach is based on hydrogen peroxide with full recovery of all filtrates. The product is specialty cellulose which is delivered in dry form in bales to be used for as diverse things as for production of textile fibers to food binding agents. The whole process from log to cellulose bale takes about 40 hours. The log is chipped and the wood chips cooked to dissolve lignin and hemicellulose while leaving the pure cellulose fibers. The dissolved components are separated from the fiber and the hemicellulose is then fermented to ethanol. Part of the lignin is sold as lignosulfonate while the remaining liquor is combusted in the recovery boiler or – in the not too distant future – gasified and turned into renewable motor fuels.

Sustainability awards

Ola Hildingsson was this fall given a forest industry award as “Cross-pollinator of the Year” and in October Domsjö Fabriker received the forest industry “Great Sustainability Award” with the motivation: “It is important to have and show the courage to investin renewable energy and environmental technologies– and to show it can be profitable. This industry has been transformed from a traditional resource-demanding mill to a new, more sustainable industry.”