Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Seven years ago, many in Maine held high hopes for a “marriage of manufacturing and technology” promised by a new owner of the longstanding Old Town mill. That owner, Patriarch Partners, planned — with the help of University of Maine researchers — to put Maine’s forests to work in a new way: by producing cellulosic, or wood-based, ethanol that would power our cars.
A $30 million U.S. Department of Energy grant won by the mill’s previous owner, the bankrupt Red Shield Environmental, was supposed to help with the eventual launch of a biorefinery in Old Town.
But the development of ethanol didn’t keep Patriarch Partners from going the way of Red Shield in 2014. When the mill reopened again under Wisconsin-based papermaker Expera Specialty Solutions in January, cellulosic ethanol wasn’t part of the business plan. Now, Expera plans to close up shop in Old Town at the end of the year.
While it’s possible a new owner could restart a biorefinery at the mill, cellulosic ethanol has not proven to be economically viable, and some doubt it ever will be. The future of ethanol as a potential bright spot for Maine’s forest economy is less certain today than it looked a decade ago.
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Photo by Ashley L. Conti | BDN