MILLINOCKET, Maine — A state agency has completed the next large step in the review of a New Hampshire company’s proposal to build what state officials called the world’s first facility that would use microwaves and thermal energy to produce torrefied wood.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection formally accepted on June 4 the application from Thermogen Industries LLC to build its plant in the wood yard of the Katahdin Avenue paper mill, DEP spokeswoman Samantha Depoy-Warren said Friday.
A subsidiary of Cate Street Capital of New Hampshire, Thermogen seeks air and water permits for the project. The air permit review will begin next week, Depoy-Warren said.
According to the application, the torrefied wood chips will be transformed from wood wastes into “stable and water-resistant” pellets containing 30 percent more energy than standard wood pellets. The facility will be a major source of volatile organic compounds, producing an estimated 50 tons annually of VOCs, which according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency can cause a host of health problems.
“While this project is the first of its kind in the world, the application review process it is subject to (a Major Source License) is a familiar one to the department, as there are well over 100 licensed major sources (of VOCs) here in the state,” Depoy-Warren said in a statement.
Facilities on a list of similar major-source pollutants include the East Millinocket and Millinocket paper mills, Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC and the Indeck biomass boiler in Enfield. All of them have scrubbers or other devices that contain or eliminate pollutant emissions or keep them within acceptable standards.
The EPA defines VOCs as toxins typically emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids that could have many short- and long-term adverse health effects, including eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination and nausea; and damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system.
Cate Street Capital officials have said that the $35 million facility will use a Targeted Intelligent Energy System built by Scotland-based Rotawave Biocoal to manufacture biocoal, or torrefied wood.
The machine would be at least as quiet and odor-free as the paper mill it would go next to, they said at a meeting in Millinocket early last month.
The plant would hire 25 full-time workers and begin producing, from about 240,000-250,000 tons of wood wastes, about 110,000 tons of torrefied wood pellets annually for sale to British and European coal-fired electricity plants. Cate Street expects the facility to start in summer 2013.
Tightened air-quality regulations in the United Kingdom and in Europe and a recognition by leaders there of the global warming hazard have created a need for torrefied wood that company officials are eager to fill, they have said.
Four wood trucks per hour would visit the site in daytime and town and state officials expect that the facility would create four to seven jobs indirectly for each of the 25 workers directly employed, a common ratio for manufacturing facilities.
Department of Environmental Protection officials hope to finish their project review and decide whether to permit the project by fall, Depoy-Warren said.
Depoy-Warren credited Cate Street officials’ several preliminary meetings with DEP as helping the project move forward quickly.
She wasn’t sure on Friday whether DEP officials would be required or opt to hold public meetings on the project, but said that project abutters could request public meetings within 20 days of June 4. It was unclear whether those were business or calendar days.
Such requests must indicate the interest of the person filing and specify why a public hearing is warranted. The department’s commissioner can opt for hearings on any application and the department will hold public hearings if it determines there is credible conflicting technical information regarding a licensing criterion and it is likely that a public hearing will assist the decision maker in understanding the evidence, Depoy-Warren said.
Follow BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. on Twitter at @NickSam2BDN.