OLD TOWN, Maine — Old Town Fuel and Fiber has the opportunity to be a pioneer in processing wood into sugars to make everyday products including plastics and ethanol, according to industry experts.
The Sustainable Bioplastics Council of Maine held a forum Thursday at the mill focused on growing bio-based manufacturing jobs. The University of Maine’s Forest BioProducts Research Institute also took part in the forum, which was attended by about 75 industry members and educators.
“This innovative Maine company is poised to become first in the world to turn wood into sugars — cellulosic sugars,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of Environmental Health Strategy Center, a Maine-based green industry advocacy group. “Those are nature’s chemical building blocks. From sugars you can make plastics, chemicals and fuels that go into a whole variety of consumer products and materials that we use in our daily lives.”
Ownership of the pulp mill has changed hands several times over the years. Currently, Old Town Fuel and Fiber employs 220 people.
The company takes wood pulp, which is 75 percent sugar, and is able to convert it to clean cellulosic sugars, said Darrell Waite, process manager at Old Town Fuel and Fiber. One ton of wood equates to just under a half ton of cellulosic sugar.
“Old Town has proven technology for producing clean cellulosic sugar from wood for conversion to biofuels, bio-plastics, bio-chemicals and potentially carbon fibers,” said Waite.
The sugar produced was sent to 50 different companies, and each one was able to convert it for their own use, he said.
If the technology catches on and the cost of production is able to be reduced, it will equate to jobs, according to Belliveau.
“The technology developed by this company can be the key to revitalizing distressed pulp mills throughout Maine and the northeast. We’ve lost over 5,000 pulp and paper manufacturing jobs since 2000 in Maine. This technology can help retain and create new manufacturing jobs,” he said.
The process of making the cellulosic sugars can also improve people’s everyday lives, said Corinne Young, chief advocate for Renewable Chemicals and Materials Alliance.
“It’s all about improving our lives, creating jobs, and it’s an economic opportunity,” she said. “Maine can be a leader in riding this wave of what is a trillion-dollar global opportunity.”
Belliveau said creating ethanol from the wood sugars is only the first step for Old Town Fuel and Fiber. Other products could be on the horizon.