Expansion in the works for Atikokan pellet mill: Chapleau forestry company spinoff eyes home heating market, export opportunities.

Author:Ross, Ian

The new Northern Ontario owners of an Atikokan wood pellet plant are in expansion mode with plans to add jobs, diversify their product mix, and explore export opportunities.

BioPower Sustainable Energy Corporation, a green energy startup, has taken control of the former Rentech plant was supplying the nearby Ontario Power Generation (OPG) Atikokan plant with commercial-grade pellets.

BioPower is a spinoff venture of True North Timber (TNT), a Chapleau forestry contractor.

The fledgling company issued a news release announcing the purchase on March 29.

TNT, through a numbered company, had signed an asset purchase agreement on Dec. 11 to buy the Atikokan mill which was put up for sale by debt-ridden Rentech last fall.

The bankrupt California company is selling off its North American assets and winding down the business. Rentech operated wood pellet mills near Atikokan and Wawa.

BioPower finalized the acquisition on Jan. 19, thus preserving 25 jobs at the northwestern Ontario community, 200 kilometres west of Thunder Bay.

For BioPower CEO Mark Guillemette, Atikokan is a strategic pickup in the parent company's plans to enter new markets by producing residential heating pellets for North American and international markets. The mill acquisition price was undisclosed.

A 10-year employee at TNT, Guillemette said in an interview that this venture represents a new evolution for the company.

"The Atikokan facility ended up being good timing for us. For the past three years we were hunting for something different to do to take forestry to the next level, in our opinion, than what we were currently doing."

Guillemette admitted the wood pellet manufacturing business is an entirely new field for them, but they've done their homework.

"It's a learning curve, no doubt. We've been learning for the past three years, so we've educated ourselves as much as we can, and surrounded ourselves with people who are willing to help us learn what they've learned as well."

The Atikokan mill provides TNT with a relatively turnkey operation, an experienced workforce running the facility, and a contract in place--up to 2024--to supply OPG with 44,000 tonnes annually.

But the new owners want to boost production to reach the mill's full 110,000-tonne capacity by diversifying their customer base and hiring more workers to tap into the domestic and international home heating market.

"It's not something we need to get into; it's something that we want to get into," said...

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