Rumford out of running

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Sen. Bryant asks for $50 million bond for biorefineries
River Valley is top on the list for second refinery to turn trees into natural gas

Rumford is no longer a contender for the world’s largest, $45 million trees-to-oil plant.

After listening to Scott Christiansen’s plans and dreams for four years, it’s news likely to fall hard on an area longing for stability and more work.

Ideally, a new facility should have ready access to a paper mill, a saw mill, and/or a pipeline to borrow resources and cut costs, and NewPage’s Rumford mill isn’t ready.

NewPage spokesman Tony Lyons on Friday cited the speed at which Christiansen and the Fractionation Development Center want to pick its first site (this summer) and lingering questions, like what’s happening with the mill’s water discharge permit. It’s in an appeal process with the state expected to drag for months.

“We said there are other places you need to look at first. We’re still very intrigued by the potential,” Lyons said.

Center Executive Director Christiansen confirmed, “For this first technology, the River Valley is not on the list…Is that a disappointment? Yeah.”

While his group researches eight sites that span from Baileyville to Skowhegan, a local legislator has asked for a $50 million bond to jump-start biorefinery efforts in Maine.

And Dixfield Sen. Bruce Bryant wants another $5 million bond to go right to this first plant. Wherever it may be.

“What we’re trying to create is a biorefinery sector in Maine,” he said.

Bryant, vice chairman of the center’s board, helped secure $420,000 from the state to run the center two years ago. He’s also put in a bill for $680,000 over the next two years.

Rumford Board of Selectmen Chairman Jim Rinaldo expressed disappointment Friday that the multimillion dollar sector Bryant envisions won’t start in his town.

“We’re amazed to think all of the time and effort that’s gone on in Rumford to make this a viable project, when the time comes to actually do something, we’re just totally disregarded,” he said. “All of a sudden it looks like it’s going to be worth something…other towns want it. I know it’s politics, but it’s not right.”

Second project in the wings

Lyons said he’s given center visitors tours of the mill, special access to business figures and pulp samples for analysis.

“Of any paper company we’ve been the closest to an interested party in doing this,” he said.

Christiansen estimates a biorefinery would use 800 to 900 tons of biomass a day and employ about 50 people. The process turns tree waste into oil then either specialty products or electricity. What the mill remains unclear on, Lyons said, is whether tree waste that’s been partially stripped through the chemical decomposition by heat could be taken back by the mill and used on its paper or whether it would affect the paper’s quality.

“The (FDC) has not necessarily proven what they can produce is useful to us yet,” Lyons said. “They’ve not been that clear on what they need.”

Christiansen said the River Valley could be a candidate for a second or third biorefinery – the center has indicated it wants to see several – and it remains at the top of the list for the center’s second project of a trees-to-natural gas plant.

Through a process called gasification, biomass can be turned into a sort of natural gas that can be fed into a natural gas pipeline, he said. It can also make plastics.

“You could have carpets that are made out of gas which are made out of wood, cost-competitively,” Christiansen said.

Gasification does not rely on the presence of a paper mill. It does rely on access to a pipeline. Rumford has one.

He said the center is close to signing an agreement with a group that has gasification technology it wants. Eighteen months after they sign, they’ll look for sites.

A gasification plant would also employ about 50 people, and with spinoff effects, he believes that number would be close to 100 in the River Valley.

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