AUBURN – On the heels of obtaining city approval for a $10 million expansion, Safe Handling Inc. announced Thursday it’s beginning a full feasibility analysis for the construction and operation of a forest products biorefinery.

Partnering with the University of Maine, Safe Handling is taking the first steps toward producing liquid fuels, steam, electricity, high-value biologically based chemicals and other products using renewable forest-based resources. Project funding will be provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Safe Handling and the Maine Technology Institute, said Ford Reiche, the company’s president.

The project represents a first of its kind in North America, he added.

And if gets a green light, it will represent an investment of “tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

Reiche cited a growing demand for environmentally friendly chemicals and fuels as well as near record-high oil prices as factors making the venture practical.

Among such a biorefinery’s products are the gasoline additive ethanol, biodiesel fuel, plastics and a variety of chemicals.

It could help position Maine as a leader in converting forest-based materials into value-added products, creating jobs and supporting the Maine economy.

“We are committed to fully investigating all benefits of a forest products biorefinery here in Maine,” Reiche said in a statement announcing the project. “Maine has the necessary high-quality feedstocks, such as paper sludges and wood wastes for bioenergy end uses. If our analysis shows that we can manage it technically and economically, we look forward to bringing this new industry to Maine.”

The University of Maine will offer expertise derived from decades of work with Maine’s pulp and paper industry, as well as expertise in chemical and biological engineering, he said.

Dr. Hemant Pendse, chairman of the university’s department of chemical and biological engineering, said in the same announcement: “In the last five years, there have been great developments in the laboratory, turning wood and wood manufacturing wastes into fuels and chemicals. Our challenge in Maine is to move these developments from the lab to the factory floor, and be proactive in getting ready for new feedstocks that are on the horizon. We look forward to meeting that challenge.”

Betsy Biemann, Maine Technology Institute president, said “It is exciting to see a company like Safe Handling take advantage of MTI’s matching fund for forest bio-products to explore different opportunities in this industry.”

Besides using its own staff and University of Maine expertise, Safe Handling will work with nationally recognized experts in bio-product development, bringing world-class talent to the project, Reiche said. Innovative Natural Resource Solutions LLC, a Portland firm with extensive experience in biomass project development, will act as project coordinator.

Reiche said that by December 2006, Safe Handling will have completed all analysis necessary to determine how to develop a bio-product facility that is technically and economically viable. If it is, the refinery could be operation in two to four years.

Lucien Gosselin, executive director of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, said he was excited by Reiche’s plans.

“Everything he touches turns to gold,” Gosselin said.

Founded in 1990, Safe Handling operates industrial distribution center complexes in Maine and Pennsylvania that produce, handle and transport raw materials such as chemicals for regional manufacturers including the pulp and paper industry. The company employs more than 100 technicians, operators, managers and drivers.

On the Web

Safe Handling Inc.:

University of Maine, Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering:

Maine Technology Institute:

Governor’s Council on Sustainability of the Forest Products Industry, March 2005 report:

Maine Future Forest Economy Project, Bio-Products Chapter:

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.