Wet weather impacts have been significantly less during this summer, as compared with the previous two.
(Enviva Inc. photo)
Enviva Inc., a leading producer of sustainably sourced woody biomass, has selected the remote town of Epes, Ala., for its largest wood pellet production plant to date.
"We don't even have a caution light, that's how rural we are," said Epes Mayor Walter Porter. "Our population is about 400. There isn't a retail store here, so this new plant brings real opportunity."
The project was announced almost four years ago. Enviva acquired more than 300 acres in the Epes Industrial Park, located next to the Tombigbee River in Sumter County.
"We began construction last year in what will be a 1.1 million metric tons per year nameplate capacity plant," said Mark Coscio, Enviva chief development officer and executive vice president. "We believe this plant will increase our production capacity by approximately 18 percent.
"The rich fiber basket and supply in Alabama, along with favorable transport logistics and a great local workforce, are some of the key factors, which initially made the project sustainable and attractive."
The company chose to repurpose a former business site and construct a new manufacturing facility to jumpstart economic growth and bring employment opportunities back to Sumter County. Once operational, the Epes plant is expected to support approximately 100 direct jobs and 250 indirect jobs, including through adjacent industries, such as logging, trucking and shipping.
"Our wood biomass provides a sustainable substitute to fossil fuels for power and heat generation and is part of an all-in renewable energy strategy aimed at reducing carbon emissions on a lifecycle basis and limiting global dependence on fossil fuels," said Coscio.
"The key driver of demand is the global energy transition mega trend; that is, the transition away from an economy that has been primarily powered by fossil fuels to one based on renewables and clean energy alternatives. What we're seeing around the world, including here in the U.S., is a global effort to change the outcomes of the way energy is sourced and produced."
Gov. Kay Ivey and Rep. Terri Sewell were among those turning out for the official groundbreaking for the new plant, which is expected to be in service by mid-2024, with production fully ramped by 2025.
"It was exciting to celebrate with so many friends and stakeholders alike at the groundbreaking ceremony," said Coscio. "We expect to play an important role in this very special community for many years to come. We expect our Epes plant will be one of the largest taxpayers in the county, resulting in economic stimulation for the community, leading to prospects such as funding for programs like road maintenance and schools, as well as safety and emergency services."
The EVA-1100 design has a vertically integrated milling, pelletizing and pellet cooling process, which is entirely enclosed in a 120-ft. tall steel building, which also houses the control room and lab. Because of the number of interfaces between construction crafts and the vertical nature of the project, the longest path of construction runs through erection of the structure and the equipment inside.
"Our greatest challenge is ensuring our suppliers meet their delivery dates and contractors meet their installation schedule," said Coscio. "The construction industry is very busy right now, and the availability of qualified construction personnel is also something that has to be actively managed."
Currently, contractors are performing earthwork activities, installing storm water piping, underground utilities and foundations and renovating existing facilities. Already crews have cut and placed 194,000 cu. yds. of dirt, and installed 1,186 rigid inclusion piles, along with 51 drilled shaft deep foundations, 80 ft. of electrical duct bank and 325 ft. of underground pipe. Workers also have completed the first concrete pour.
Tasks remaining include underground utilities, foundations, structural steel erection, mechanical equipment setting, as well as electrical and controls installation and commissioning.
"The previous owner hosted an auction to sell most of the onsite equipment," said Coscio. "Enviva contracted construction crews to help facilitate clearing and grubbing of the new woodyard area, structural demolition and demolition of unusable utilities. Enviva has also partnered with the county to dredge the existing barge slip area, which had significant silt accumulation."
A total of 208,000 cu. yds. of dirt will be relocated around the property to provide a safe working area and promote stormwater drainage. Heavy machinery and materials being used on the site include dozers, trackhoes, off-road dump trucks, triaxle dump trucks, water trucks, a 100-ton crane, a 65-ton crane, pipe fusion machines and welding machines.
Coscio said that wet weather impacts have been significantly less during this summer, as compared with the previous two.
"The past months have been very dry. Although the dry weather has helped with minimizing downtime, the soil conditions in this site require water to deter dust and loosen a subsurface chalk layer that's unique to this area of Alabama. It's called the ‘white cliffs of Epes' because this chalk layer is visible along the banks of the Tombigbee Waterway."
Sumter County Commissioner Marcus Campbell said the impact of the new mill can't be overstated.
"It's a huge deal for Sumter County. We're looking forward to the boost in employment in our region and are excited at the prospect of a new revenue base. Sumter County will also have additional opportunities to form strong ties and partnerships with Enviva, which will cultivate opportunities for additional partnerships with other companies, as well as foster continued community support. Everyone is full of excitement and optimism."
"The community, local agencies and organizations alike have welcomed us with open arms from the start," added Coscio."We've gone through a pandemic together, and while we know there were doubts about the plant construction plans becoming a reality, we can't thank the Epes community enough for its strong support." CEG
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