SOLON — A desolate plot of land on Davis Farm Road is soon destined to become a 24-hour manufacturing site for wood biobricks.

Enviro Wood Briquettes will break ground at the new location in August, according to the company’s owner, John Webster, so long as they are successful in winning a federal grant for the project.

For the last eight years the company, which buys its sawdust from Kennebec Lumber in Solon, has been located in Berwick. It annually produces about 2,000 tons of biobricks, a heating oil and firewood alternative.

Being located 150 miles from the lumber yard, in addition to having a limited use permit for the Berwick facility, no longer makes sense, Webster said, so he’s planning to move most of the business, including all the manufacturing, to Solon.

The plan will add seven new jobs when the facility opens, hopefully by Nov. 1. The company is working with the town to apply for a Community Development Block Grant that would provide $210,000 in funding for the project. The grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development but is awarded through the state.

The planned move, which wouldn’t take place until next year if the grant falls through, also will mean an expansion for Enviro Wood. Webster hopes to increase production from about 2,000 tons of bricks per year to 5,000 tons.

“We’ve been doing this for eight years, and every year we can’t make ’em fast enough,” Webster said. “We can’t supply the market.”

Like wood pellets, biobricks are a firewood alternative made from dried wood using compression; but unlike pellets, they don’t require a special stove to burn them.

A component in the wood becomes sticky under the heat of compression and hold the bricks together.

“There’s no bark, there’s no bugs and less ash,” Webster said. The bricks have just a 5 percent moisture content, while firewood usually has about a 20 percent moisture content, meaning more is needed to achieve the same output.

“With the bricks, once you get a fire going, you can dampen it down and spread those BTUs over a longer time period,” Webster said.

The lower moisture also prevents creosote from building up in a chimney, ultimately lowering the risk of chimney fires.

Enviro Wood started eight years ago, when Webster, a former merchant mariner, was looking for a firewood alternative to heat his home in South Berwick. Webster is also the founder and president of Southern New Hampshire Hydroelectric, a builder and operator of small hydro-electric generating stations in New England.

After reading an article in the Portland Press Herald about biobricks, a compressed wood brick made in Connecticut and sold in Maine, he decided to give them a try. But Webster had to drive about 100 miles to Damariscotta to find them.

“I liked them an awful lot. It’s a convenience thing,” Webster said. “If you have any experience with firewood, you know you either cut it yourself or you have to split it. Then you have to get it in your cellar. By the time you get it in the cellar, you have to mess with all the dirt on it and the bark that falls off, and clean up that mess. With these bricks, you move them into your house and that’s it.”

One ton of bricks, which is roughly the equivalent of one cord of wood, costs $300 retail.

They are sold at Ace Hardware, Aubuchon, some True Value stores and other hardware stores in Maine. Webster said he’d like to approach more stores in New England, but he hasn’t done that because he can’t supply enough to his current retailers.

“This is the middle of summer. No one’s burning firewood, but I have about 20 truckloads (of bricks) back-ordered; and it’s been like that since day one,” he said.

One of the benefits of moving to Solon will be that Webster can operate a 24-hour, six-days-per-week manufacturing site. In Berwick the facility is in a conditional use zone, which means the plant can operate only between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Webster said he hopes to add another brick-making machine in Solon and have three shifts for workers so he can produce bricks around the clock.

“I didn’t know anything about making bricks or working with sawdust eight years ago when I got started, so I didn’t build my Berwick facility the best way that I could have, just because of my inexperience,” he said. “Over eight years I’ve learned what I should do and what I shouldn’t do, so this new facility is going to be state of the art.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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