An Edgecomb man is branching out his forestry management operation. Erik Carlson, a licensed forester and certified logging professional for more than two decades, is busy setting up his new wood pellet plant in Boothbay for a mid-July opening.
On June 6, he spent nearly 12 hours unloading three trailer truck loads of pellet-making equipment sent from Zengzhou, China. Carlson is hoping to produce 800 tons of wood pellets a year to finance his new venture. His interest in the industry was spurred by the generation-long Maine papermaking industry’s struggles. Carlson manages woodlots and sells low grade wood to Maine paper mills.
One of his largest customers has been Verso’s Androscoggin Mill in Jay. Verso closed its Bucksport mill in 2014, resulting in the mill’s diminished need for pulp. Maine’s paper mills have been the major market for pulp wood for generations. Carlson once described the low-grade wood as being “good for little else than for making pulp.”
But one day, Carlson discovered another market for pulp: pellet stove operators.
“I saw on the bag they were manufactured in Canada, and I thought this is a great way to keep the the local forestry product alive, and, at the same time, create jobs,” he said.
As he began his search for wood pellet manufacturing equipment, he discovered the machinery he needed wasn’t available in North America. Carlson would need equipment manufactured in The People’s Republic of China. He contacted the Zhenghou Whirlston Machinery Company about purchasing equipment.
“I had to contact China because all the machinery manufactured in North America is all for large-scale operations. I requested permission from the Chinese government to tour the facilities and I spent two days there in February,” he said.
Carlson purchased a full production line which included a debarker, wood chipper, dryer, skid steer scoop, wood stove, hammermill, and bagger for approximately $111,000. Carlson said the Chinese gave him a bargain price for the equipment. He estimated the chipper manufactured in China would cost considerable more in North America. He said the Chinese-made chipper cost him about $8,900, but the one made in North America would would cost nearly $60,000.
“It turned out being a good deal for both of us,” Carlson said. “They sold it to me for such a cheap price because now all future North American customers can come here to check out the operation instead of going all the way to China.”
He is busy arranging his plant, a 40-foot x 60-foot structure located on one acre in the Boothbay Industrial Park.
Once Carlson begins operating, he needs to test his wooden pellets. He will send his manufactured wooden pellets to the University of Maine at Orono. His product must meet Pellet Fuel National Performance Standards. The test measures moisture content, density, ash content, and British Thermal Units (BTUs).
He also needs to find a market for his new product. Carlson plans on contacting local hardware stores. He plans to sell the wooden pellets in 40-pound bags. He plans on starting with one full-time employee and add three more in four years.
Carlson said the entire project included the 15-hour flight to China in February, talking about Donald Trump and U.S. Presidential elections with Chinese citizens, tracking his production line equipment from China to Boston, and planning his new business venture.
He is most excited about potentially providing a boost to the local economy.
“Providing jobs here in the Boothbay region really excites me,” he said. “This might fall flat on its face, but hopefully it works out and provides good paying jobs for my employees.”
Carlson established C and L Forestry, a consulting timber and harvesting company, 20 years ago.