Conference focuses on forest industry

Posted Dec. 03, 2008, at 10:17 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — As the future of some of Maine’s wood-based businesses hangs in the balance, more than 100 people gathered this week to discuss how biotechnology can be used to stimulate the existing forestry industry in both Maine and Atlantic Canada.

The Atlantica BioEnergy Task Force R&D Forum opened Wednesday morning and will continue through Thursday afternoon.

The conference is being held at the University of Maine, which is one of 22 task force partners in a group that includes industry, academia, government and utilities from Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Although R&D stands for research and development, the task force partners were not presenting their latest innovations. Rather, the attendees were charged with examining a group of 16 recommendations from a soon-to-be-released summary report compiled by international audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The more people looking and criticizing the recommendations for re-energizing the industry, task force executive director Thor Olesen said, the more realistic and complete the list will be.

“Whether or not we can call this initiative successful [depends on] if we actually move into some realities,” he told the group gathered in Hauck Auditorium.

Maine-based task force partners include the university, the Maine Forest Products Council, the Maine Pulp & Paper Association, and the state of Maine. Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. has also been affiliated with the task force, Olesen said.

The forum attendees had a chance to examine a working draft of the summary report, including the recommendations.

The final version will be released to the public Dec. 15.

The recommendations address sustainable forest management, improvements to infrastructure, strategies to deal with greenhouse gases, enhancing policy and developing regional networks and collaborative programs between research universities in the task force’s geographic area.

The latter recommendation is of particular interest to Hemant Pendse, a University of Maine professor and chairman of the school’s department of chemical and biological engineering.

Pendse said local companies, such as the Red Shield facility in Old Town, also can put some of the recommendations to use.

“Individual mills will look to this for near-term opportunities that have been already vetted and analyzed by this team,” said Pendse, who is also the managing director of UMaine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative.

Part of the research PricewaterhouseCoopers did for the report included a review of 26 emerging technologies, narrowing that group down to four for use as case studies and potential implementation.

The final version of the report will include recommendations and conclusions from this week’s forum, as well as a recent round table that Gov. John Baldacci attended.

On Thursday the forum attendees will discuss the institutional and regional nuances in the recommendations — the fact that what works for one might not for another, Olesen said.

UMaine’s reputation in wood fiber research made it a natural site for a forum, Olesen added.

“The University of Maine is certainly world-leading in its innovation,” he said during a break. “It’s a great showcase because of the focus this university has on this type of project.”

jbloch@bangordailynews.net

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