One of the city's largest manufacturers hopes to change from using heating oil to natural gas to reduce emissions and improve efficiency, according to a Rockland City Councilor. The project will involve adding four large natural gas tanks at its waterfront location.

FMC BioPolymer plans a $5 million project to convert to the cleaner fuel alternative, cutting particulate emissions, including soot, from 65 tons to 2 tons a year, according to City Councilor and Energy Committee Chairman Larry Pritchett.

Using natural gas would reduce total plant emissions (both particulate and other emissions) by an estimated 20 percent, according to a document provided by FMC.

The company plans to install up to four tanks, 34-feet in height at the plant's Rockland site to house the natural gas. Each tank would be able to hold about 18,000 gallons.

The project would require planning board approval. FMC officials announced plans for the project at a meeting last week at the Maine Lighthouse Museum.

The FMC BioPolymer plant on Lime Street in Rockland is the largest carrageenan manufacturer in the world and the only plant of its kind in North America. FMC extracts carrageenan from seaweed for use in a number of food, personal care and pharmaceutical products. It has 140 employees.

The company currently uses heating oil No. 6 to power operations, which is the heaviest of heating oils, and one of the dirtiest fuels, said Pritchett.

When heating oil is burned, it produces sulfur-dioxide and soot, which are contributing factors of asthma and acid rain, he said.

Converting to natural gas, from his perspective, is an improvement.

"As someone married to a person with asthma, I think it is very positive that FMC is developing this proposal that could dramatically cut air emissions from the Crockett Point facility," Pritchett said in an email.

The conversion will also lower costs to FMC — natural gas is cheaper per unit of energy than heating oil, and will make meeting the company's air emissions license easier.

When dealing with large quantities of fuel, National Fire Protection Association design standards must be implemented to reduce the possibility of a hazardous situation, Pritchett said. He added he is not concerned, as the odds of problems are extremely remote, and FMC currently works with chemicals without incident.

Pritchett said the company is far from meeting with the Rockland Planning Board for a permit, and that a meeting last week was to determine public perception of the plan.

He said the company aims to have the tanks in place by fall 2014.

FMC would also need an oil and solid fuel board permit from the state and modify its air emissions license, said Pritchett.

Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.