An excavator works to raze one of four buildings at the former East Millinocket paper mill site on Main Street in 2017. Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. / BDN

The company on track to be the first tenant at the site of the defunct East Millinocket paper mill would take in 12,000 tons of wood chips each year and transform them into a carbon-rich soil additive that reduces the need for traditional fertilizers.

Standard Biocarbon’s operation at the site of the storied mill that closed for good in 2014 would make the Maine company the largest producer of biochar on the East Coast and one of the largest in the world.

The new details on Standard Biocarbon’s plans come from an air emissions license application it filed Wednesday with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Standard Biocarbon is seeking approval to use four carbonization units to create a product known as biochar.

The company describes biochar as a “negative emission technology” in its emissions license application, as the process that converts wood chips into the soil additive keeps the carbon in the biochar rather than releasing it into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. 

Standard Biocarbon Corp. is leasing part of the former Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket to make ‘biochar,” a biocarbon product used in agriculture products like compost and for environmental cleanup. Credit: Courtesy of Standard Biocarbon Corp.

Standard Biocarbon expects to receive shipments of dry wood chips, which it would grind before using a process called pyrolysis to convert them into biochar. The 12,000 tons of wood chips would become 3,000 tons per year of biochar, which the company would cool and bag before shipping it to customers, according to the license application.

Standard Biocarbon last month signed a 20-year lease with the town of East Millinocket to use 12,000 square feet of warehouse space on the former mill site for its production facility. The company also is leasing 40,000 square feet of an outdoor wood holding area as well as other shed storage space. It has the option to lease more space as it expands.

The town bought the former mill site in July 2020. The lease takes effect on Sept. 1. 

Standard Biocarbon will lease the warehouse space for $1 a month for the first six months before it could start paying $4,000 monthly, according to a copy of the lease included in the company’s emissions application. The lease rate after the first six months will depend on market rates at the time.

The company will have access to the wood holding area rent-free for the first six months before beginning to pay nearly $1,700 a month after that.

It expects to pay about $1 per square foot for additional storage space that doesn’t have fire suppression technology and $4 per square foot of storage space that does have fire suppression.

Standard Biocarbon plans to employ five people when it opens in the fall, and CEO Frederick Horton said the plant will bring new jobs to East Millinocket as it scales up. He also anticipates Standard Biocarbon will need to source its wood chips from nearby furniture makers and mulching facilities. 

East Millinocket Selectman Mike Michaud pointed out that the company would provide another outlet for waste wood that loggers have often struggled to sell in recent years.

There’s a lot of growth potential in the biochar industry, Horton said. It could “scale up” to rival the paper industry in the next 10 years, he said. One study from an investment organization last year projected the negative emission technology industry could generate $800 billion in annual revenue by 2050. 

“There’s more demand for carbon removals now than there is for paper,” Horton said.

The practice behind biochar dates back thousands of years, when Native Americans and other indigenous people used it to improve their own soils, he said. 

Horton said he hopes other tenants, such as sawmills or plywood mills, move into the rest of the mill site so they can take advantage of the heat Standard Biocarbon’s processes will create to warm their own buildings. Standard Biocarbon would be able to use those businesses’ wood byproducts instead of the mills having to ship them off site. 

“It creates a nice symbiotic relationship with the town,” Horton said. 

Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.