Firm considers buying Tolko site in Merritt

By on May 18, 2017
An illustration of what a Woodland Biofuels ethanol manufacturing plant might look like, if it were to be built in Merritt. Mike Heron presented the idea to council on May 11. (Photo courtesy of Woodland Biofuels).

When the Tolko Industries mill in Merritt shut down in December, Mike Heron took a long look at the community which had just lost more than 200 jobs and saw an opportunity.

“It happened when I came here around Christmastime. I had a chance to learn about the Tolko unfortunately having to close it’s doors, at the time leaving a significant gap for a community the size of Merritt,” said Heron, who is the president of IES Energy Inc.

He started to put together what he called a “wishlist” for the City of Merritt — ideas to bring large-scale industry into the Nicola Valley to replace the jobs lost by the Tolko closure.

While Heron was cultivating ideas for other projects, a friend tipped him off about Woodland Biofuels, a company based out of Ontario that was pioneering the use of wood waste to create ethanol — which is then sold for use as a fuel additive.

Most ethanol plants in North America use food materials as a feedstock, particularly corn, but the process introduced by Woodland Biofuels uses primarily wood waste as a feedstock, explained Heron.

“They are able to create the ethanol at literally half the cost of what is being produced from corn. To us, that really creates a competitive advantage altogether,” he said.

The company has already constructed a demonstration plant in Sarnia, Ont., and has been looking since 2014  for a spot to build a full-scale operation.

“Initially [Woodland Biofuels] was focusing on a couple of companies in the eastern part of Canada. I explained  to them that we could create something really unique here that’s going to help the community as well,” said Heron, noting that the plant could potentially make use of existing wood waste in the area.

Heron’s firm is now in the process of developing a Memorandum of Understanding with Woodland Biofuels to further pursue the Merritt option. He presented the idea to city council at a special Committee of the Whole meeting on May 11, and plans to open an office in Merritt in the coming weeks.

Heron has also already been nominated and confirmed as a director for the Merritt and District Chamber of Commerce for 2017/18.

Following his meeting at city hall, Heron said he’s been pursuing the idea of purchasing the Tolko mill site itself, in order to continue the mill operations and provide the prospective ethanol plant with more wood waste.

The plant itself could also be located on the property, but Heron said that could require the purchase of more land — about “56 to 59 acres.”

And as for concerns that Merrittonians might have about the safety of the industry, Heron said he is committed to listening to locals.

“I’ve always found that if you’re upfront with everybody and try to address their concerns, it’s easier to accept than trying to work outside of that arena altogether,” he said.

One Comment

  1. George Bergquist

    May 31, 2017 at 9:07 am

    Finally some possible good news.

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