Urania pellet plant underway

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

Pellet production and shipping operations in Woodville and Port Arthur, Texas for the German pellet production headquartered in Wismar, Germany is meeting expectations. Construction of the pellet manufacturing facility on 334 acres in Urania, Louisiana is now underway. However, a date has not yet been set for the plant to begin receiving raw materials.

The Urania facility is designed to produce one million tons of wood pellets per year. The pellets produced at Urania will be transported 210 miles to the German pellets port facilities in Port Arthur for shipment by ocean going vessels to Germany, the UK, and other European ports. Each shipment out of Port Arthur will require about 45,000 tons of pellets.

The German Pellet company was founded in 2005 by Peter H. Leibold and its first pellet mill was built in Wismar. Leibold had this to say about choosing the site in Urania for the company's second North American production facility: "Once again, we have chosen a site with well-established wood supplies and logistics. The decisive factor for the choice of the Urania location was the availability of raw materials in this densely forested region. The forest industry is the second largest employer in the well-wooded state of Louisiana where forests are managed for sustainably."

The Urania facility will create nearly 500 new jobs, directly and indirectly. German Pellets has 18 other pellet production facilities in Germany, Austria, and the USA. The company manufactures pellets for heating and oven units with particular market focus in Denmark, Italy, and the UK. German Pellets does manufacture pellets for large combustion systems. The yearly output of pellets in 2013 companywide was 2.2 million tons.

Its dealer network of fuel dealers tops the 100 mark in Germany alone. All of the company's pellet production are either DINplus or ENplus A1 certified. Wood pellets are defined according to DINplus by their diameter, abrasion resistance, and water and ash contents. The Europe-wide ENplus certification regulates not only the quality of the product during the manufacturing process in the plant, but also the quality up to delivery to the customer for problem free and safe heating operations.

German Pellets also has a contract with Germany's largest utility company, EOAN, to provide 480,000 metric tons of pellets annually for five years starting in 2014. The state of Louisiana's Economic Development Department has arranged significant financing for the German pellet facility in Urania. Last year, $140 million in unrated bonds were issued by Louisiana Public Financing authority for German Pellets. \par }{\plain Documents related to this financial arrangement acknowledge that the demand for pellets in Germany, Europe and the UK is largely driven by government imposed policies. If those policies and incentives are taken away, or a cheaper source of fuel is found, the demand for wood pellets would shrink significantly.

Burning wood pellets is considered environmentally friendly because the burning of wood pellets releases carbon that the trees would produce anyway when they decompose in the forest. This scenario of using wood for fuel, maintains the balance of carbon because it does not release any "new" carbon gases into the atmosphere. The burning of wood pellets is classified as "carbon-neutral."

Once wood is reduced to the chip form, they enter the pellet manufacturing process. The chips are further crushed in a pellet mill to the desired particle size, dried, and then pelletized. To be pelletized, the chip layer is conditioned with superheated steam and pressed through a steel die, similar to a meat grinder.

Temperature, humidity, and pressure assure that the wood's own lignin, a polymer that is responsible for the firmness in plant tissue, liquidizes. Through subsequent cooling processes, the lignin hardens again and the pellets achieve the firmness required to meet DINplus and EINplus specifications. The pellets are stored in silos before they are either bagged or transported by truck and trailer in bulk form.

German Pellets Company has come a long way in its business operations in just seven years of operation since its founding by Peter H. Leibold in 2005. Liebold, born in 1956 first began his business career in the publishing and printing industry, working for some of the largest printing and publishing businesses in Germany.

However, in 1998, he joined the newly established sawmill and timber company, KNT Klauser Nordic Timber as managing director. He was given the responsibility for construction and commissioning of the largest (to date) European sawmill manufacturing facility.