U.S. Engineering Firm Makes Larch Chips More Appealing to Pulp Mills

pulp mills

Harmick Engineering, an American firm, has been granted patents in Canada, the United States, and Russia for the extraction of arabinogalactan and taxifolin from larch (tamarack) wood chips. Keep reading for more information. 

Harmick Engineering’s CellFuel Portable Biomass Refinery

This Minneapolis facility allows mills to produce sugars and ethanol from sugar beet, sugarcane, sweet sorghum, softwood wood chips, and straw. Harmick Engineering has developed a special technique for the larch byproduct extraction, that’s scalable to the sizes necessary for large pulp and paper mills. This technology was created in collaboration with a research institute in Saint Petersburg, Russia, that has experience working with both arabinogalactan and taxifolin. 

If the arabinogalactan, a biopolymer, and taxifolin, a flavonoid, are removed first, larch wood chips are much more valuable for making pulp and paper. However, this has been difficult historically, so very few pulp and paper mills will accept larch wood at this point.

Ed Harmick, president of Hamrick Engineering, commented on this emerging technology:

“We’re very excited about these excellent test results after many years of working on this technology. We aim to find partners in some of the large pulp and paper mills in Russia and Canada. These mills have access to millions of tons per year of larch wood and have the infrastructure in place for harvesting, chipping and pulping this wood. Our technology is a simple, low-cost add-on to existing pulp and paper mills.”

How It Works

First, the wood chips are infused with a dilute ethanol solution using steam—the same way that sodium hydroxide is infused into wood chips in a paper mill. This produces an aqueous solution of arabinogalactan and DHQ at the bottom of the column, and anhydrous ethanol at the top of the column. Aqueous solutions can be directly spray-dried and sold as a product, without the need for further processing. 

Arabinogalactan and taxifolin have additional uses as well—they’ve been shown to have “significant probiotic effects” in both animals and people, which means they can aid in producing animal feed without antibiotics marketed as organic. 

After the extraction, the paper produced from these chips is much stronger and more valuable. Hamrick Engineering predicts that arabinogalactan extract with 7% taxifolin can be made for less than $1/kg. The market price of taxifolin is about $1/g, so the expectation is to get about $70 of taxifolin for every kilogram of extract. 
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