During the recent economic downturn, Springdale Lumber closed its timber mill in the already economically stressed Stevens County, an hour’s drive north of Spokane, Washington, leaving 25 employees without jobs.

When the Recovery Act offered business a chance for new life, local small business owners Dale and Sharon Borgford decided to reuse the mill–as an energy generation plant. The mill, in turn, will use recylced energy–from biomass–to produce electricity. For that they received $771,00 from the Recovery Act‘s DOE’s State Energy Program as well as $4 million from the US Forest Service.

The old mill is now a combined heat and power (CHP) system that uses mill wood waste to power the mill’s operation and creates enough electricity to feed back into the power grid. When fully geared up, it will produce enough excess electricity to power 3,500 households in Stevens County.

The plant works by heating the mill wood waste in an airtight vessel. The heat turns nearby water into steam which spins a turbine. The heat is also used to dry the mill’s lumber. And the process provides one another beneficial by-product as well: the by-product of the high-heat cogeneration process is biochar, which can be sold as an agricultural soil additive.

Read more about DOE projects and the Recovery act on energy.gov.