Domtar unveils new technology at Plymouth facility

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 06/11/2013

Domtar Corp. unveiled a new plant at its Plymouth mill on Friday that turns a key byproduct of paper production into what the Canadian company hopes will be a valuable commodity he $30 million plant separates lignin, the organic glue in a tree that binds wood cellulose fibers together, so that it can be converted into solid form and used as an alternative to fossil fuels, a carbon product or a natural adhesive. The facility and lignin separation methods are part of Domtar’s effort to become more sustainable and identify new markets for its products.


News Observer - 
June 8, 2013


Domtar Corp. unveiled a new plant at its Plymouth mill on Friday that turns a key byproduct of paper production into what the Canadian company hopes will be a valuable commodity.


The $30 million plant separates lignin, the organic glue in a tree that binds wood cellulose fibers together, so that it can be converted into solid form and used as an alternative to fossil fuels, a carbon product or a natural adhesive.


Domtar received $7 million in funding for the project from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy’s Biomass Research and Development Initiative. The mill in Plymouth, about 125 miles east of Raleigh, employs 420 workers.


The facility and lignin separation methods are part of Domtar’s effort to become more sustainable and identify new markets for its products. The company has identified existing and potential customers interested in buying the lignin product produced in Plymouth, said Bruno Marcoccia, Domtar’s director of research and development.


“[We thought] let’s take this lignin because of its unique attributes and chemical properties and potential applications, and let’s isolate and develop new processes or markets for it,” Marcoccia said. “The price of oil is high. This is a bio-based material.”


Montreal-based Domtar generated more than $5 billion in annual sales last year. The company’s more than a dozen mills produce hardwood, softwood and fluff pulp.


In paper production, lignin is typically washed out of the pulp that eventually becomes paper and put to the side as part of a mixture called “black liquor.” Usually, the black liquor mixture is processed and fired into a recovering furnace, used to power the plant it was produced in.

Instead of using all of the lignin to power the plant, Domtar workers at the Plymouth plant use new technology to lower the pH of the black liquor, allowing lignin to separate from the mixture. It is then filtered, processed through an acid cleansing solution, filtered again and routed to a truck for commercial use. The lignin that doesn’t make it through the filter is used to power the facility.

“This is just one example of the tremendous promise of the bio-based economy to create jobs and economic opportunity in rural America,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. Vilsack was scheduled to attend Friday’s event, but cancelled due to Tropical Storm Andrea.


Marcoccia said Domtar will try to sell its lignin product to commodity and specialty chemical companies, thermoplastics companies, and
people interested in using adhesives, among other markets.


“To get [this product] to market, the first thing you need to do is demonstrate that you can produce it reliably and consistently,” he said. “This is a commitment to demonstrating our ability to produce it and bring it to market.”


The new plant is operating mostly by the same staff that runs the company’s paper mill in Plymouth.


If successful, the plant could create a lot of jobs and new economic opportunities in the state, said Hasan Jameel, a professor in N.C. State University’s Department of Forest Biomaterials.


“The future of a lot of the things we’re trying to do is focus on renewable resources and sustainable products – that’s what our long term goal has to be,” Jameel said. “If they succeed, then hopefully there are companies that come in and will buy their material in North Carolina.