Knock on wood: Mainers look to biotech to sustain beleaguered logging industry

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In Maine, the logging industry is pinning its hopes on biobased products to help sustain revenue and jobs.

Maine has more forests than any other US state, as well as significant infrastructure to move wood. However, declining demand for certain paper products and cheap heating oil and natural gas have lowered annual wood demand by 3.8 million tons annually. “We’ve had a rough couple of years in the industry,” Eric Kingsley, a consultant with Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, tells Bangor Daily News. “We’ve lost mills, we’ve lost jobs. There will be more losses coming. But I am, long term, optimistic.”

To find a new outlet, Bio-Based Maine and University of Maine Orono are collaborating to make the business case for production of plastics, chemicals, and fuels using the state’s abundant logging resources.

Bio-based Maine’s executive director Charlotte Mace says the trade group has received a grant to inventory the state’s active pulp and paper mills and shuttered sites to help facilitate investment.  “We’re putting together an investment prospectus with all the information [investors] would need to decide to invest in Maine,” Mace said. “It’s important that we share that with the international biotech industry. They’re not going to magically discover that.”

Mace has been pitching Maine’s resources to prospective manufacturers of biobased products, but says the supply chain has to be developed in a “very strategic and deliberate way” to attract investment. Long-term, however, she is optimistic.  “Everything in our lives can really be made from the cellulose of wood, and this is really the long-term vision,” Mace said. “We want to manufacture these high-end products, and we want to manufacture them in Maine.”