Going Global

Great Lakes ports to prepare for biomass exports.
By Matt Soberg | November 01, 2011

John Elliot, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Erie County, Pa., kicked off BBI International’s Northeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show on Oct. 12 with in-depth discussion about the opportunities for worldwide export of biomass through the Great Lakes.

“With Pennsylvania having over 14 million acres of forestlands and studies showing 6 million tons of biomass could be harvested sustainably each year, biomass caught our attention in a special way,” Elliot said. To take advantage of Pennsylvania's vast natural resources, the EDCEC is redeveloping two ports on Lake Erie in addition to improving inland railways to provide full transportation services to export biomass.

With relatively the same travel time to Europe from the Port of Baltimore, “the St. Lawrence Seaway provides a tremendous inland waterway for export purposes,” Elliot said.

“We see opportunity to develop biomass exports in Pennsylvania, helping biomass businesses significantly cut transportation costs by putting product on a ship set for export,” Elliot said. The EDCEC believes exports through the Great Lakes could substantially benefit the entire region. 

To further its export initiative and solidify the process, the EDCEC is building strategic relationships with inland rail transportation and port authorities. In addition, the group is developing partnerships in Europe with buyers, ports and businesses that want to buy biomass product from the Erie region. 
On a local level, the development group started the Erie Inland Port Initiative, which is a “transportation-based development strategy to grow the Lake Erie region’s manufacturing, timber, shipping and logistics industries,” according to the EDCEC.  Fostering relationships overseas, Elliot visited Europe to connect the local wood supply with European markets.

 Through transportation-based investigative surveys, Elliot noted that transportation costs have become an overwhelming factor in the biomass trade. Research has shown that 23 percent of all intermodal transports in the region are filled with wood product, which Elliot believed is significant. Through the surveys, the group learned that many local companies transfer wood great distances to ports outside the region.

The EDCEC is also developing specific real estate in close proximity to port locations that hold great potential for biomass businesses wanting to relocate. Elliot said that not only can the EDCEC provide information to potential businesses regarding biomass exports, but the group would be willing to discuss further incentives to help make biomass exports a reality for the Pennsylvania region.
The conference was held Oct. 11-13 in Pittsburgh.

—Matt Soberg