New waste-to-energy technology could be economic boon.

RUMFORD – Scott Christiansen hopes the historical tradition of a River Valley economy based on natural resources will continue with the next big thing.

That thing is pyrolysis – a new technology that turns waste wood into fuel and hydrogen.

Christiansen, the River Valley Growth Council’s economic developer, and Joseph Derouche, the council’s president, just returned from a meeting in Washington, D.C., with the state’s congressional delegation to discuss funding for a demonstration plant that would do just that.

And they came away with a promise that the $2.8 million needed to build such a plant will be included in an Energy and Water bill introduced by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, has also agreed to introduce a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

“We’re trying to bring jobs back from overseas. This valley has suffered in boom and bust cycles,” said Christiansen.

Getting the funding from the federal Department of Energy budget won’t be easy. To strengthen the chances, Christiansen said the governor, the River Valley’s legislative delegation and various departments in the state must provide support.

But if the money comes through, the design and construction of a biomass pyrolysis demonstration plant could be built next year. As tentatively planned, it would use 50 tons per day of waste wood, and would be built in such a way that equal-sized modules could be built in the future to accommodate a growth in the industry.

Christiansen said the pyrolysis process would extract chemicals from the oil that is produced from waste wood and bark. Such chemicals could be used by a variety of industries. The remaining residue would then be used to create hydrogen, a gas that is considered the fuel of the future by some on the federal and state levels.

Although Christiansen and the Growth Council won’t know whether the federal money will come through until October, he said a proposal for a pyrolysis project must be drawn up and submitted to the Department of Energy within the next two months. Millions of dollars more in grant money are available for pyrolysis and hydrogen projects, which Christiansen hopes to go after as well.

Already, he said he is discussing uses for the resulting oil and hydrogen with several industries that may be interested in it.

“If we can make this work, it’s a very, very big deal,” he said.

Trying to develop new industries from the River Valley’s natural resources is nothing new for Christiansen.

Also in the works is a biomass project, an experimental quinoa agricultural crop, and continued research and development of straw-bale insulated house kits. All are continuing while the pyrolysis project is developed.

Christiansen said he began working with the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado almost 18 months ago to find value-added uses for the area’s forest resources. The Growth Council has also been working with the University of Maine and its research facilities on all four resource-based projects.

Economic development organizations in other states are also going after funding for pyrolysis projects, making it all the more important that the River Valley project gain political and popular support, said Christiansen.

Christiansen and others involved in the Growth Council are meeting with staff from the governor’s office on Thursday.

“We’ve done a lot of work trying to identify things for the River Valley. This feels really right,” he said.

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