Great Lakes ports prepare for biomass exports

By Matt Soberg | October 12, 2011

John Elliot, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Erie County, kicked off BBI International’s Northeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show 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 realize those biomass export possibilities, the EDCEC is redeveloping two ports on Lake Erie in addition to inland railways to provide full transportation services for export purposes. 

With relatively the same travel time to Europe from the Port of Baltimore, “the St. Lawrence Seaway provides a tremendous inland water way 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 the export through the Great Lakes could be substantially beneficial for the entire region. 

To further their export initiative, the EDCEC is building strategic relationships with inland rail transportation and port authorities to solidify the export process. In addition, the group is developing partnerships in Europe with buyers, ports and businesses who 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 stated 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 Northeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show is being held through Oct. 13 at the Westin Convention Center Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pa.