Catt. Co., SUNY ESF Look To Team Up On New Wood Technologies

OLEAN – Many companies have come to the Southern Tier with the hopes of making a profit in wood and wood byproducts with no success. Research into new methods and products might give an economic shot in the arm of Cattaraugus County and the rest of the western Southern Tier.

The potential of a bright jobs horizon and industrial future may be at hand for Cattaraugus County for the investment of $75,000 over two years, for consulting and communication help to ensure a future in the new forest-based wood product industry, according to Economic Development, Planning and Tourism director, Crystal Abers. That is why she brought visitors from Syracuse to answer project-related questions.

The money would go to the Seneca Trail Resource Conservation and Development organization for assistance in implementation and additional research to aid in finding a site suitable to the ESF project, and to help in planning the start-up, according to Abers.

Representatives from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry presented their project to county legislators and other interested community members, recently at the Olean County Center. Thomas E. Amidon, Ph.D., a professor at the college, having several decades of work in the paper industry, including heading up research for International Paper, as well as former professor, now associate director for community regeneration at the forestry school, gave an overview of the project that they are looking to bring to the Southwestern portion of the state.

According to the two, the New Forest Economy model can build on the hardwood reserves that stand in the Southern Tier. The hardwoods, under specific processes, can be distilled and refined into products that can offer a resurgence in the industrial future of the region.

“There is an abundance of wood that can be managed in the area,” Gilbert said. “Our process offers more than just burning the wood for heat or energy. Each of the businesses that can be created support one another and offer a complexity to help build the area.”

The process that has been developed at the forestry school, as well as within Amidon’s business, Applied Biorefinery Sciences, uses a hot water extraction process that frees different compounds from the wood to create three classifications of products; biofuels, bio-materials and bio-derived chemicals. As byproducts, the process creates advanced biomaterial products, enhanced wood products and combined heat and power. That heat and power would also be able to be used in, what the forestry school representatives called controlled environment agriculture, often referred to as greenhouses.

Gilbert continued to say that the diversity gives the proposed project more of an economic resiliency that is not solely dependent on one aspect of the wood industry. In fact, the complexity of some of the products that can be produced can spur more and more business development in areas around proposed sites to carry out the process.

Some of those businesses could utilize chemicals that make artificial sugars and sweeteners, even replacements for corn-based products, eliminating the competition for food uses. Others may use chemicals to make biodegradable plastics. Even more could use the enhanced wood products to make furniture or other wood products at a higher profit level, according to Amidon.

The process is expected to start in Allegany County, on the Wellsville campus of Alfred State University. The school already has a high-tech campus that builds the STEM-related skills sought after in many educational programs throughout the region, Gilbert said. The project would have the completion of a bio-refinery on the campus, as well as one on a site to be determined in Cattaraugus County. The Wellsville facility will be a pilot refinery, used to prove the process, Amidon said. In three to five years, Cattaraugus County would see the construction of a facility, should all go well in the pilot phase.

Each commercial facility, after the pilot, would cost about $150 million to construct, Amidon said, with none of the funds coming from the local governments. Fundraising for construction and operations of the facility, at initial startup, is in early phases, but the majority of funds have come form the National Science Foundation, Gilbert said.

Once the facilities are up and running, the pilot at the Wellsville site would transform into a 40-scientist research and development facility, Amidon said. That would be done in conjunction with partners in New York, Ohio, Minnesota and Washington state, Gilbert said. An effort to build the facility into an international partnership is in the works as well, he said. A proposal will be completed and submitted to the United States Department of State in late April to create a joint effort with Wales, in the United Kingdom, Brazil and China to develop various technological and research partnerships.