Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More Maine homes getting a load of this

The manufacturer of BioBricks expands the number of dealers in Maine and wants to open two plants in the state.

By TUX TURKEL, Staff Writer
November 13, 2007

The Finest Hearth & Home stove shops in Maine were approached last year by a Connecticut company about selling a small briquette made from sawmill waste. The Yarmouth store decided to order a few tons, to see if any customers were interested. It wound up selling roughly 170 tons.

"They exploded," said Brad White, a salesperson. "We never anticipated them doing as well as they did."

Mainers are largely unfamiliar with BioBricks, but that may change. The company that makes the fuel, BioPellet LLC in Berlin, Conn., wants to open two production plants in Maine. Meanwhile, it has expanded its dealer network here.

With heating oil at record prices this fall and homeowners desperate for relief, dealers expect BioBricks to be a hot seller this winter. Their biggest concern is being able to order enough to meet the expected demand.

BioBricks are a form of alternative fuel fashioned from compressed sawdust and wood waste. They are very similar to wood pellets, which are growing in popularity and now are being manufactured in large quantities in northern Maine. The major difference is that BioBricks, which each measure about 6 by 4 by 2 inches, can be burned in a fireplace or woodstove; pellets are the diameter of a pencil and require special stoves or fireplace inserts.

More than an alternative to burning oil, BioBricks are an alternative to firewood. They take up less room than cordwood, contain more heat energy and produce less smoke.

For instance: A cord of logs measures 4 by 4 by 8 feet. A ton of BioBricks, which comes wrapped in plastic and stacked on a pallet, measures 4 by 4 by 3 feet. A pallet of the high-density, low-moisture bricks delivers the same heat output as a cord of wood, according to the company's testing, and generates half the particulates. These properties make BioBricks appealing to wood burners who don't have room to store cordwood, or are looking for heat that's environmentally friendly and easier to handle.

What about cost?

Dealer charges vary, but the going price this winter seems to be around $300 for the first ton. Delivery charges are extra. Compare that to a cord of seasoned hardwood in southern Maine selling in the $250 range, or a ton of wood pellets, which also costs around $250.

Set against heating oil at $3 a gallon, and assuming typical burn efficiencies, BioBricks are roughly 40 percent less expensive on a heat-energy basis, according to basic BTU calculations.

BioPellet LLC was started two years ago by Tom Engel, a Connecticut engineer. Engel has a strong interest in technology that reduces emissions associated with climate change and that cuts the nation's dependence on petroleum. Traveling in Europe, he became interested in a press in Germany that forms high-density briquettes from waste wood. He now sells the machinery in North America.

Engel has been producing BioBricks in a warehouse in Berlin, Conn., using hardwood sawdust from local mills. He has since expanded to make 30 tons a day and is adding more production this winter, including a plant in Pennsylvania.

But Engel said he's very interested in expanding in Maine, for the vast wood resource and the receptive market.

"I sold 600 tons in Maine last year, out of the blue," he said. "It was a third of my sales in 2006."

Engel said he's negotiating with two woods-products companies, near Augusta and Houlton, to set up BioBricks manufacturing facilities next year. These companies, which he declined to name, have the space and raw material he needs. One site could produce up to 40 tons a day; the other up to 80 tons.

Making BioBricks in Maine could lower the price of the fuel here, he said. It currently costs roughly $30 a ton to truck the bricks north from Connecticut.

The wood-burning customers buying BioBricks at Finest Hearth in Yarmouth are concerned with price, according to White, the salesman, but they're also tired of hauling logs and finding dry firewood.

Those are important considerations at the Finest Hearth shop on the Portland waterfront, which caters to many residents of the Casco Bay islands.

"It's easier to transport than a cord of wood," said Ernie Stanhope, a salesperson.

The Portland store has sold 67 tons already this year. Stanhope said he expects to have a hard time keeping up with demand this winter.

Demand has taken Mike Sullivan by surprise.

Sullivan's firm, Maine Biomass in Brunswick, began delivering BioBricks this year. He ordered 50 tons, thinking that would be enough for his startup company.

"By next week, I'll be sold out of my inventory for the year," he said.

Now he's trying to decide whether to order another truckload of 26 tons.

Damariscotta Hardware is selling BioBricks this year for the first time and is making a big commitment.

The store ordered 264 tons. It has been advertising through direct mail and local media. It ran a promotion that gave a pallet of bricks to the buyer of a new stove.

Damariscotta Hardware also sells cordwood and pellets. It'll deliver a seasoned cord, with roughly 20 percent moisture content, for $269. BioBricks are $299 for the first ton, plus a $1.50 per-mile delivery charge.

Tony McFarland, the store's manager, said BioBricks compare favorably in price with seasoned cordwood, because they contain less than half the moisture.

"You're getting more bang for your buck," he said.

If BioBricks take off in New England, they may experience the same growing pains as wood pellets.

Two years ago, demand for pellets outstripped production in the Northeast. The fuel was hard to find and expensive. New plants have since come on line. In Maine, a facility in Ashland has been joined by a large plant in Corinth designed to produce 140,000 tons a year.

Engel is well aware of wood pellet history. He's trying to set up a network of BioBrick plants that use his equipment throughout the Northeast. As long as oil prices stay high and waste wood remains available at competitive prices, BioBricks may become a player in Maine's alternative energy marketplace. It's possible they could grow at a faster rate than wood pellets.

"There are a lot more wood stoves and fireplaces out there than pellet stoves," McFarland said.

Staff writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

Copyright © 2007 Blethen Maine Newspapers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

[b]discount software, [url=http://vioperdosas.net/]buy macromedia[/url]
[url=http://sapresodas.net/]filemaker pro templates[/url] popular oem software discount language software
adobe photoshop cs3 brushes downloads [url=http://vioperdosas.net/]college software shop[/url] share prices software
[url=http://sapresodas.net/]nero 9 review[/url] software with academic discount
[url=http://vioperdosas.net/]price list for software[/url] academic software license
used microsoft software [url=http://sapresodas.net/]5 Pro Finale[/url][/b]