Three excavators continue to organize debris at the former Great Northern Paper Co. LLC mill site in East Millinocket on Tuesday. Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. / BDN

East Millinocket has received nearly $300,000 that it plans to use for improvements at the site of the defunct local paper mill where a Portland startup is working to get its operations started.

The town plans to use the $292,000 grant from the Future Forest Economy Initiative, announced Monday, for a heating system and engineering at the mill’s warehouse that will help the building’s first tenant get off the ground and make the building more hospitable for future tenants. The award marks the latest milestone in the mill site’s redevelopment after the town took charge of the process by buying the property in July 2020. The town signed a lease with the mill site’s first tenant last summer.

The first tenant to set up shop at the mill that closed for good in 2014 is Biocarbon Standard, a Portland startup that takes wood chips and turns them into a carbon-rich soil additive called biochar that reduces the need for traditional fertilizers. Standard Biocarbon would become the largest producer of biochar on the East Coast and one of the largest in the world.

The Future Forest Economy Initiative, which awarded the $292,000 grant, is a collaborative project involving the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the Northern Forest Center, an investment organization that works in communities that have traditionally been dependent on the forest economy.

East Millinocket will use the funds to purchase a heating system that will interconnect with the four kilns that the Standard Biocarbon Company will use to produce its biochar, East Millinocket Selectboard member Michael Michaud said. 

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.

Part of it is an emergency propane system that will help heat the warehouse, which he said will be crucial to attracting other businesses to the warehouse. 

“This is very significant,” he said. “We have tenants in the warehouse that have started to bring products to store there.” 

The system will also power the warehouse’s sprinklers, a critical safety measure, Michaud said. 

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 company’s air emissions license application with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Standard Biocarbon signed a 20-year lease with the town of East Millinocket in July 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.

A forest products company and a company in the paper industry also use warehouse space, Michaud said.

The town bought the former mill site in July 2020.

The Future Forest Economy Initiative on Monday also announced one other grant award — a $369,000 grant to the Somerset Economic Development Corporation so it can purchase dryer equipment that it will lease to Maine Plywood USA, LLC. 

Maine Plywood owns and has rehabilitated the former Quimby Mill in Bingham and will be the first company in the U.S. to produce high-quality plywood from poplar. 

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...