Drax readies pellet facility on river site

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

If you have crossed the I-10 Mississippi River Bridge recently and wondered what the two large white dome structures on the up-river side of the bridge are, the answer is they are a bright light for the Louisiana and Mississippi forest industry. These recently constructed domes are silo storage bins for Drax Biomass pellets that will be produced in Gloster, Mississippi and Bastrop, Louisiana, for shipment overseas.

Drax Biomass is a sister company to Drax Power of the United Kingdom which currently produces 7% of the electricity needs in the United Kingdom. (Commonly called the UK, the Kingdom consists of Enland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, often also called The British Isles.)

Drax Power set up Drax Biomass to provide wood pellets as a replacement for the coal being used to fire their electrical production facilities in the UK.

Construction work is in full swing at the Gloster, Mississippi facility. Applications are being taken for both construction and permanent employment through the Mississippi Workforce Commission that has an office at Southwest Community at Summit just east of Gloster.

Chuck Davis is CEO of Drax Biomass (DBI). Davis has more than 20 years of experience in energy infrastructure development, project financing, and general management. Prior to joining DBI, he was a Senior Advisor with Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners, where he managed portfolio company investments.

Previously, Davis was Executive Vice President and Head of Development at Vercipia, a joint venture of BP and Verenium, a leading second-generation biofuels company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and other energy-related companies with duties in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Davis served in the US Marine Corps, and holds a BA degree from Tufts University as well as an MBA from Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business.

Helen Bage is Senior Vice President of Finance at DDI. Prior to June of 2012 when she joined the Drax U.S. team, Bage was the Group Chief Accountant with the sister company, Drax Power in the UK. Bage, a CPA, completed her ACA (CPA advanced certification) while employed by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Rusty Booker is Vice President of Fiber Procurement. He worked for International Paper Company, Champion International Corporation and Chesapeake Forest Products Company. Booker is a Mississippi Registered Forester and has served on the Board of Directors of the Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas state forestry associations.

Jim Thomason, Vice President of Operations and Maintenance, has a long background in both the pulp and paper industry as well as in the power generation industry. He worked for Georgia Gulf Corporations, a commodity chemicals company, and Georgia Pacific, LLC, in engineering, operations and at their corporate headquarters. Thomason holds a BS in Mathematics from the University of Georgia, a BS in Electrical Engineering from Mississippi State University and MBA degree from LSU's Ourso School of Business.

Dorothy Thompson is the Drax Power UK chief executive officer. Drax power is purchasing the pellets produced in the Gulf South region to fire its electrical generating boilers and turbines.

Last month financial analysts visited the Drax power plant to inspect progress on the power plant switching half its generating capacity to biomass.

Both coal and biomass present fire risk during transportation, storage and processing. Biomass pellets are particularly vulnerable because of the highly combustible dust and conditions they create. To alleviate this problem, Drax has turned to designs developed and used by North American grain suppliers to prevent combustible dust explosions.

Drax Biomass is rapidly approaching an operational stage in its plans to send Gulf South timber in pellet form for feedstock to the UK power plant. It will apparently be several more months before Drax begins receiving timber.