Biomass thermal plant to aid Maine paper mill

By Anna Austin
Posted Sept. 29, 2010, at 8:14 a.m. CST

A century old pulp and paper mill in Madison, Maine, is poised to significantly benefit from a proposed biomass thermal plant to be collocated at the mill site.

The plant will be constructed, owned and operated by Recast Energy, formerly part of a biomass combined-heat-and-power system and wood chip supply firm known as Intrinergy LLC. The facility will generate about 90,000 pounds of steam per hour. The paper mill will utilize the steam to power its operations, in turn reducing the amount of fuel oil it burns by 50 percent each year.

Recast Energy Vice President Brandon Ogilvie said that the mill currently burns about 9 million gallons of fuel oil per year to generate its steam.

Displacing that oil will help decouple the mill's risk exposure to the volatility of oil prices, and reduce the need for four oil tanker trucks every day of the year, according to Ogilvie.

Maine has seen several paper mill closures in the past few years primarily because of high oil prices, including Wausau Paper's Otis Mill in Jay, and Katahdin Paper Co. in Millinocket.

"Sometimes [oil prices] are high and sometimes they are low, so a significant benefit is not being exposed to that," Ogilvie said, adding that the plant will also reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 40,000 to 50,000 tons per year.

Fuel from the plant will consist largely of bark and sawdust leftover from the paper mill's operations, materials that previously had to be transported off of the site by truck. About two-thirds of the 100,000 to 150,000 green tons of biomass the plant will require will be leftover mill residue; the remainder will come from a third party. Ogilvie admitted that the additional biomass will require some trucks, but the operation will still see much less traffic with the reduced fuel oil trucks and eliminated material export trucks.

In January, the project received a $357,000 grant from Efficiency Maine. The company estimates the total project to will cost about $25 million.
Ogilvie said upon being granted approval, the company plans to begin the biomass thermal project first quarter of 2011. He estimated construction to last about one year. "Without power generation, these projects take a lot less time," he pointed out. "Electric turbines tend to be the driver of the construction schedule."

Ogilvie said Recast Energy has a similar project with a food and beverage company that is in earlier stages, and has two woody biomass thermal projects in operation at a paper company in Mississippi and a U.S. textile company in the Dominican Republic.