ORONO, Maine – Ryan Smith does not own a woodlot, nor does he operate a sawmill.

But the president of a Riverview-based nutraceutical company is as interested in the energy potential of leftover wood products as any attending the Atlantica Bioenergy Task Force research and development conference in Maine.

The task force meetings, which began Tuesday night and will finish Thursday, are the culmination of months of research by 22 stakeholders into bioenergy technology and policy opportunities for an industry that has long depended on the Acadian forests of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine and has struggled of late to turn a profit.

Smith, like those in forestry, is harvesting material from the woods and operating industrial processes that could benefit from biomass technology.

He spoke on a chartered bus ride to Orono, Maine, during breaks in his marketing work on a laptop computer, about why the future of bioenergy in Atlantica matters to him and his company, Chatham Biotec Ltd.

“What we’ll be inclined to do in the future is take the wood and use it to operate our boiler in the plant,” Smith said.

His company cultivates wild Canada yew – commonly known as ground hemlock – from forests in New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec and the eastern United States and extracts a medicinal ingredient used to make drugs that fight cancer and other diseases in his Shippagan plant.

Attached to the hemlock greens that contain the pharmaceutical compounds are small branches that become scrap wood Smith ends up shipping en masse to fuel a bioenergy plant in Maine.

He wants to use his company’s wood waste in a future biomass burner, maybe a pellet-fired boiler, he said, which would provide steam and heat for a new extracting plant he has planned for Moncton.

The solution is both cost-effective and more environmentally friendly than running operations off an oil burner.

“Whenever you look at building a plant or product, you don’t want any waste,” Smith said.

“You want to build something that is green nowadays.”

Smith said he hopes at the three-day conference, hosted by the University of Maine, he will pair up with a company interested in harvesting wood where Chatham Biotec collects Canada yew.

He said research has shown that with a few less trees around, sunlight reaches the shrubs he’s interested in and they grow bigger, faster.

Smith wants a partnership that will add to that body of research.

The Orono gathering will provide ample opportunity for Smith and other industry leaders to meet with researchers from universities across the region, here to vet four technologies proposed by the task force for the region’s industry.

Richard Isnor, who was riding the bus to Orono as manager for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Atlantic office in Moncton, said he hopes to watch industry partner with academia on new bioenergy projects that could apply to his organization for funding.

Two of the agency’s national competitions – the collaborative research and development program and the strategic network program – offer about $150,000 to $200,000 and $5 million respectively for projects that pair academic research with industry.

Isnor said researchers from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia should see the conference as a chance to tap into the wealth of knowledge Maine already has on bioenergy.

“The bioenergy sector is already established here,” Isnor said.

Mysore G. Satish, the associate dean in Dalhousie University’s engineering faculty, said he was on his way to Maine to do just what Isnor recommended – see where engineers and business professors can contribute to regional bioenergy research.

Two professors at his university worked recently with a consultant to analyze the potential in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley for woodlot owners to turn bits of wood and bark and other products leftover from logging into energy.

“There are a lot of waste products in wood,” Satish said, pointing to Sweden’s advanced application of technology to turn biomass into energy as a model to which Atlantica should aspire.

“They have made this into a science, how best to use wood,” Satish said.