Stories & Features

Quesnel Plywood saves $187,000 a year with one operational change

Image of Quesnel Plywood conveyer and chip bins
A newly built overhead mechanical conveyer belt at Quesnel Plywood conveys residual wood chips to three large stationary chip bins for collection and sale.

A 30HP conveyer belt now does the job of two big 125HP chip blowers

Opportunities to conserve energy in industrial settings are seldom obvious. Compressed air leaks can be difficult to detect, and peak demand can be difficult to reduce.

But once in awhile, a big savings opportunity just jumps out at you.

"The best way to explain it is that we were using two semi trucks to do the job a hatchback could get away with," says Mohammed Raza, corporate energy engineer at West Fraser Mills Ltd., which runs the Quesnel Plywood operation.

The "semi trucks" he's referring to are actually a pair of 125-horsepower (HP) chip blowers, which Raza recently helped decommission.

Raza, who joined West Fraser Mills in 2014, identified the decommissioning opportunity with the help of mill colleagues after attending a Strategic Energy Management Workshop facilitated by BC Hydro. A few weeks later, a plant-wide energy audit confirmed his assumption: The blowers, which were used to move a steady stream of residual wood chips 1,200 feet through a pipe across the mill, were consuming more energy than required to get the job done.

Quesnel Plywood's decommissioned blowers
Decommissioned blowers now stand idle at Quesnel plywood, thanks to a project that's saving about $187,000 a year in energy and maintenance costs.

Two-year payback period helped secure project approval

In the manufacturing of plywood, the portion of log that's not used for making plywood is chipped and sold to pulp and paper mills. Usually, the residual wood chips are collected and then conveyed by oversized blowers through a pipe to chip collection bins a set distance away.

But after a walkthrough of the mill and a review of plant layout drawings, Raza spotted the opportunity. If they relocated the chip bins, they could shorten the distance the wood chips traveled down to about 30 feet, and replace the blowers with a single 30HP mechanical conveyer belt.

The energy savings are there. You just have to find them and make your case.

With guidance from BC Hydro and Mike Van Aert, manager for strategic energy projects at West Fraser Mills, Raza determined that the operational change had the potential to reduce the mill's annual energy usage by 3.5%, the equivalent of 1,019 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity [by comparison, that's enough to power 100 single-family homes a year in B.C.] The general manager at Quesnel Plywood approved the project immediately.

"There was also another advantage to decommissioning the blowers," explains Raza. "When blowers transfer wood chips from point A to point B, the structure of the chips can get damaged when the air knocks them around inside the pipe. With a conveyer belt, the wood chips go from source, to belt, to collection bins in one continuous process, preserving their structure and quality, maintaining the mill's chip quality index, and making them more attractive for sale."

With the resulting energy reduction of 1,019 MWh, avoided maintenance costs, and improved chip quality, the yearly savings from the project added up to $187,000. "The payback period, or return on investment, was attractive," adds Raza. "Roughly two years."

Quesnel Plywood mill
Commissioned in 1951, Quesnel Plywood produces roughly 240,000 to 270,000 thousand square feet of 3/8-inch plywood annually.

What's next? A study to find more savings

With the blowers decommissioned and construction completed on the conveyer belt, Raza has turned his attention to the mill's heat generation system and end use system. A detailed study is underway to quantify the potential energy savings.

"Sometimes it's easy to spot a savings opportunity – that was the case with the blowers at Quesnel Plywood. But sometimes it isn't. Still, the energy savings are there. You just have to find them and make your case," he says.

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