Go Wood: With mills struggling, a Maine lumber firm is building a biomass plant.

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Robbins Lumber is building a $36 million, 8.5 megawatt biomass plant in hopes the project will help bolster the local forest economy, while giving the lumberyard something to do with its residuals — chips, sawdust and bark.


SEARSMONT, Maine — The shuttering and shrinking of paper mills has forced businesses across the forest products industry to take a fresh look at their approach.

At Robbins Lumber, a 136-year-old family-owned sawmill in Searsmont, the upheaval is prompting a big investment to become not just a lumber producer, but an energy producer.

So the company is building a $36 million, 8.5 megawatt biomass plant, with capacity to sell about 7.5 megawatts to Central Maine Power. The family hopes the project will help bolster the local forest economy, while giving the lumberyard something to do with its residuals — chips, sawdust and bark — in the wake of the paper mill closures. (source, Bangor Daily News)

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Biomass Boiler Conversion Potential in the Eastern United States

While the promotion of biomass energy has quieted some in the recent surge of natural gas supply, it continues to remain a common sense solution to wood waste utilization opportunities, in those places where the market niche works economically. We did a study not too long ago that discussed these opportunities. Our conclusion?

Analysis of the results indicates that a targeted response to wood-conversion initiatives will yield the most successful program of fossil-fuel replacement in thermal applications. A ranking index developed in this study through analysis of existing boiler installations and availability of wood feedstocks suggests that the top ten states in the eastern United States on which to focus future messaging, feasibility studies, and policy development for potential woody biomass conversions are: Maine, Texas, New York, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania (in that order).

Notice the first state listed for biomass energy potential? That’s right…Maine. For where you have wood, and an established wood industry, biomass energy makes sense and will be produced. As we discussed on GoWood a time ago.

In fact, the Robbins Lumber project has a “multiplier” impact on the local economy, as the Bangor Daily News article explains.

Robbins Lumber and CMP have ironed out a 20-year purchase agreement for the electricity produced by the biomass facility. The sawmill doesn’t produce enough residuals on its own to fuel the boiler’s 24-7 operations, so it will have to turn to its log suppliers, purchasing residuals from them to maintain a steady stream of fuel for the boiler.

They’ll need about 15 trailer loads per day to keep it running. Jim Robbins said the construction of the biomass plant should be a boost to local harvesters and woodlot owners, who also are looking for new places to send their residuals in the wake of mill closings.” (source, Bangor Daily News)

In order to get the necessary economy of scale needed to make the project feasible, Robbins management decided to build a boiler plant larger than their own supply of chips could fill, and thereby gave a boost to other chip producers in the area.

That’s the way it works when smart folks do their work, and find opportunity in the face of adversity.

About the Author: Chuck.Ray is an associate professor at Penn State University who specializes in wood sciences and forest products. Chuck writes the Go Wood blog, which has become popular for its insightful commentary on the industry and interesting uses of wood. Visit today http://gowood.blogspot.com