By Andrew Snook
June 9, 2017 - Shaw Resources has been keeping Atlantic Canadians warm throughout harsh winters for more than 20 years. The Shubenacadie, N.S.-based company has been producing wood pellets for residential heating under its Eastern Embers brand since 1995.
Shaw Resources has an even longer history throughout the region. The company has been a fixture in the aggregates business supplying Atlantic Canada for more than 60 years. In fact, it was two employees on the aggregates side of the company who first brought attention to the potential for producing wood pellets for the residential and industrial markets to Shaw’s upper management. The two employees got the idea while vacationing in British Columbia where they observed wood pellet plants in operation.
“We’ve always been into tapping our employees for ideas,” says Rene Landry, director of wood pellet operations for Shaw Resources, adding that building a pellet plant back in 1995 wasn’t a walk in the park. “Building a plant back then was trial by error.”
The majority of the wood pellets produced at the Shubenacadie plant supply the company’s residential heating market with more than 90 per cent of pellets sold heading to homes across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., and even a few in Newfoundland.
In addition to the residential pellet market, Shaw Resources also uses its wood fibre to produce animal bedding and industrial wood pellets.
“We’ve done some exporting to the U.S. and a little to Ireland,” Landry says. “We have more capacity here. We’re running at about 60 per cent today . . . we have about 50,000 tonnes of capacity.”
Ensuring there is always a plentiful amount of fibre available when operating a wood pellet plant is a concern for all producers, but this is especially true when the plant is a standalone facility that is not being fed directly from an on-site wood processing facility.
At the Shubenacadie plant, the fibre supply comes from local sawmills the company has had long-standing relationships with, including Elmsdale Lumber in Elmsdale, N.S., Ledwidge Lumber in Enfield, N.S., and J.D. Irving’s sawmill in Truro, N.S.
“We’re using high quality infeed; we want to be known as having the best quality product,” Landry says, adding that local stove installers they work with will often recommend to their customers to use Eastern Embers wood pellets to keep their stoves running smoothly due to their high quality.
After fibre is loaded into the plant’s storage facility by walking floor trailers, it is mixed via a Caterpiller 903K or Volvo 90E wheel loader with two parts sawdust and one part shavings and is loaded into a hammer mill; which breaks down the fibre mix further and sends it to an overhead belt where it is loaded into the main hopper to be fed into a triple-pass rotary drum dryer.
After going through the dryer, the fibre has about an eight per cent moisture level. It then travels along augers to dry wood silos where it is fed into the company’s three pellet mills that press the fibre into wood pellets. The pellets then move along a conveyor into the cooler.
“After the cooler they go up an elevator to a screener to take any small fibre out and are sent to bins to be packaged,” explains Rob Williams, production supervisor for Eastern Embers during Canadian Biomass’ recent tour of the plant.
After being packaged in 18.1 kg bags (40 lb.), the bagged pellets are sent via a conveyor through a metal detector to catch any bags that may have picked up small metal pieces. All the bags that successfully pass through the metal detector are then sent to a Mollers North America automated palletizer. The palletized wood pellets are then grabbed via forklifts and placed and trucks for transport.
“Any bags that contain metal get sent to the boiler for heating the building,” Williams explains, adding that the pellet plant installed an in-floor pellet-fuelled hydronic heating system back in 2003.
The plant also has six silos on site with 45 tons of capacity to handle any bulk pellet orders.
Although the plant still has many original parts from 20 years ago still functioning effectively today, the company does invest in the plant whenever needed. Two years ago the company installed a new Andritz pellet mill to increase capacity.
“I think they’re a world-class supplier,” Landry says. “They’ve been great to deal with.”
To help manage the dust produced by the operation, the company installed an Agrovent dust collection system that sucks up dust at various stages of the production process. The staff also performs regular manual housecleaning practices to help control the dust during every 12-hour shift.
Any fines collected are sent to the fuel hopper for drying fibre and through a one-kilometre pipe that sends them to the company’s on-site aggregates operation where they are used as boiler fuel for its sand drying operation.
Employee retention has been one of the secrets to the success of Shaw Resources’ wood pellet operation in Shubenacadie. There are currently 10 employees operating at the plant, with that number increasing to 21 employees when the plant is running at peak production. Many of those employees have a huge amount of knowledge when it comes to running the plant, since they have worked there since its inception.
“Some of the employees have been with us since Day 1,” Landry says. “You can’t replace that kind of experience.”
With an extremely knowledgeable and loyal staff and strong ties to the surrounding communities and its fibre suppliers, Shaw Resources’ Shubenacadie plant has positioned itself to continue standing strong and fuelling Atlantic Canadians’ wood pellet needs, while growing into international markets, well into the future.
Beyond the operation, Shaw Resources works closely with retailers and appliance installers to keep up with the expectations of end-users.
“People have choices so we recognize the need to be engaged to maximize on opportunities,” says Lindsay Veinotte, product marketing strategist for Shaw Resources. “We also want to make sure people understand the benefits of wood pellet heat compared to other heating alternatives.”
Earlier this year, the company launched a new website for Eastern Embers and is building a presence on social media channels. They are planning to launch a new bag design in the upcoming heating season, coupled with a new 9.1-kg bag.
“The new bag reflects why people want to burn wood pellets – warmth,” Veinotte says.