Potential exists for biomass exports via Lake Erie ports

By Matt Soberg | September 21, 2011

Through the efforts of the Economic Development Corporation of Erie County, worldwide exports of biomass through the Great Lakes could become a reality for northwest Pennsylvania. The EDCEC is redeveloping two ports on Lake Erie in addition to promoting the benefits of woody biomass export to potential companies wishing to relocate. Because Lake Erie is between what is considered both the Eastern and Midwest U.S., the group believes exports through the Great Lakes could substantially benefit the entire region.

As part of its economic development initiatives, the EDCEC focused on the transportation market and issued investigative surveys to determine regional transportation trends. The group learned that many local companies transfer products great distances to ports outside the region and that forestry products ranked high on the list regarding the volume of products transported. Specifically, the group found opportunities to foster the hardwood lumber and biomass industries by transporting and exporting wood pellets and chips from western Pennsylvania forestry companies. 

Following a trip to Europe to identify possible export markets, the EDCEC connected the dots between the local wood supply and capitalization of Lake Erie exports to European markets. “The market surrounding biomass export is a definite opportunity for the EDCEC,” says EDCEC project manager Rachel McCreary.

The development group began 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.  The initiative encompasses various strategies including development of the port system, creation of an intermodal rail ramp, and development of the Erie Shippers Association, a membership-based organization supporting the transportation industry.

THE EDCEC owns 200 acres of real estate with 1,000 feet of frontage on Lake Erie. The property was the former site of the International Paper Co. that closed in 2002. The group has the site for sale or lease, and is hoping to attract biomass-related companies that wish to utilize the close proximity to rail and port transportation. 

The combination of port export and woody biomass availability may create significant economic development in the region served by the EDCEC. The project could potentially attract new businesses interested in export, create new jobs and allow the region to get ahead of the renewable energy game which is important both economically and environmentally, according to McCreary.