Investing in new approaches
Domtar is also at the forefront of an effort to commercialize an eco-friendly product called nanocrystalline cellulose, which is extracted from tiny wood pulp fiber particles. It is incredibly strong and lightweight, and could be used as a material for aerospace and auto components, textiles or bio-composites (such as bone replacement), Struhs said.
Rather than attempt to develop NCC on its own, Domtar teamed up with forestry research organization FPInnovations to create a joint venture called CelluForce Inc. The company is operating an NCC demonstration project at the Domtar pulp and paper mill in Windsor, Quebec. Its production of about 1 metric ton daily is being tested by 15 companies in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia for applications in paints and coatings, films and barriers, textiles and composites.
It took approximately 14 months to build the $36 million plant, which was backed in part with $23.2 million from Natural Resources Canada and $10.2 million from the Quebec Natural Resources and Wildlife Department.
"Our investment in the CelluForce project is part of a larger story at Domtar at unlocking greater value from wood fiber," said John Williams, president and CEO of Domtar, commenting about the plant's successful completion.
Domtar invested in the joint venture rather than going it alone was the effort required to commercialize NCC, which requires focus and industry cooperation, Struhs said.
Some research from the pilot will be shared, but Domtar has taken steps to ensure that its investments in NCC -- and its lignin extraction process -- are protected from an intellectual property standpoint. To that end, it has hired a full-time lawyer to work with its R&D to help manage this process. "It's important that you understand on the front end who owns what," Struhs said.
Photo of machine in paper plant provided by Moreno Soppelsa via Shutterstock