Matthew Weaver IMFA

KC Kuykendall, biopolymer product manager for Columbia Pulp, provides an update on the plant’s progress Feb. 6 during the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.

SPOKANE — The new wheat straw pulp plant in Eastern Washington is slated to open by April 1, a company official says.

Columbia Pulp liquid co-products product manager KC Kuykendall gave an update during the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.

“This is a first-of-its-kind facility,” Kuykendall said. “There’s no other plant in the world doing what we do.”

The plant, based in Starbuck, Wash., is the first pulp mill to be built in the U.S. in the last 35 years. 

Columbia Pulp purchased a technology license for its “Phoenix process” from a separate company, Sustainable Fiber Technologies in Renton. Kuykendall said the company is licensed for the technology in the Northwest and Western Canada.

Pulp the plant produces is aimed for molded fiber, tissue and towel, specialty and packaging markets. Biopolymers are targeted for de-icing, crop and soil health, erosion control, dust suppression, animal nutrition and construction material markets.

The plant will use 250,000 tons of wheat straw per year to produce 150,000 tons of pulp and 95,000 dry tons, or 155,000 wet tons, of biopolymers.
The plant can produce 400 metric tons of dry wheat straw pulp and 433 wet tons of biopolymer per day.

Kuykendall expects demand for straw to eventually increase to more than 1 million tons each year as the company adds facilities in locations such as Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alberta and British Columbia.

The company is already looking for a site for a second facility, he said.

A smaller pilot plant is in Pomeroy, Wash. It will provide product development and research development, Kuykendall said.

The company uses more than 4 million tons of wheat straw per year from farmers within a 75-mile radius of the plant. 

Columbia Straw Supply is the sole supplier of straw to Columbia Pulp. The company pays $40 per ton to pick up straw stacked and baled next to the road, and $55 per ton for straw that is delivered to the company in Starbuck, said Heidi James, administrative team leader.

The price increases $5 per ton if the farmer contracts for 25,000 tons or more, and an additional $2 per ton if the supplier is self-performing, using an app to scale and unload themselves in the company stackyards.

“We’re bringing this facility into the middle of dryland wheat country,” Kuykendall said. “Those communities are almost always hurting for good, family living-wage jobs.”

Kuykendall said the plant is changing the agricultural landscape.

“Folks have been making paper products out of wheat straw for a long time — hundreds of years, thousands of years — but not until Columbia Pulp developed this pulping process have they been able to render market-grade pulp at the quality needed to be competitive in the marketplace,” he said.