Paper maker turns waste wood to biofuel, jobs

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Friday February 25, 2011

DALTON -- Crane & Co. is planning to employ a rarely used, clean-energy technology to reduce the paper maker's energy costs and possibly bring 100 new jobs to the region.

The technology, known as Rapid Thermal Processing, or RTP, converts local waste or scrap wood into a clean-burning, nearly carbon-neutral biofuel, which would replace fuel oil in burners and generators. The biofuel -- called pyrolysis oil -- can also be used as a replacement for electricity and natural gas. The conversion occurs when the waste wood is vaporized at high heat in the absence of oxygen.

Stephen A. Sears, a partner in Berkshire Renewable Power, which will help Crane develop the project, said the RTP could generate enough electricity "to basically take Crane off the grid."

"We can save millions of gallons of fuel oil with this process, and keep our prices relatively stable," said Crane's Chairman and CEO Charles Kittredge on Thursday at a news conference that was held to introduce the project. "It's a significant piece of our costs going forward that we hope to stabilize."

ReEnergy Holdings LLC, a renewable energy company that focuses on the generation of electric and thermal energy from waste fuels, plans to invest $80 million toward the construction of a facility at Crane's Ashuelot Park that will allow the country's sole producer of U.S. currency paper to utilize the technology at its many mill sites. Crane will own and operate the facility once it has been built. Ashuelot Park, a 100-acre parcel, straddles the Dalton-Pittsfield town line.

"The plan is to have this done by the end of 2013 if everything stays on schedule," Sears said.

Between 25 and 30 new jobs would be created for employees of the new facility, Sears said. The other jobs that are expected to be created would be for people to harvest the wood.

RTP is produced by Envergent Technologies LLC of Illinois, a joint venture between the Fortune 100 technology and manufacturing company Honeywell and Ensyn Corp., a Canadian firm.

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Crane is expected to use only half of the biofuel that the RTP plant generates. It would sell the rest.

"We believe that approximately 50 percent of the output of the plant would be available locally," Sears said. "We'd like to get some local customers. It's not ready for homes. But it's ready for industrial use."

RTP is currently used in seven commercial biomass processing plants in the United States and Canada, and ReEnergy Holding operates plants in New Hampshire and Connecticut.

But Sears said he believes Crane's application is unique.

"This particular application of this fuel as we're doing here, I believe, is the first demonstration of this kind of fuel in the United States," he said. "There are applications being looked at in Southeast Asia, Italy and Canada."

Larry Richardson, the CEO of ReEnergy Holdings, said RTP is a "proven technology" that has been used for 15 years.

"The technique to create the oil started in the late ‘70s, I believe," Sears said. "But when the oil market stabilized in the 1980s there wasn't much need for the process."

Until recently, Sears said RTP was used to create liquid smoke that was used to give certain foods a smoky flavor.

"As soon as oil hit high prices, they became interested in putting this back into the energy markets," Sears said. "This is a step along the way."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224.


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