By Rudy Diaz

Blue Mountain Eagle (John Day)

New jobs are on the horizon with the completion of the torrefaction plant expected at the end of the year.

Matt Krumenauer, CEO of Restoration Fuels, said the plant that will turn forest biomass into a product that can be burned for fuel plans to be in production in 2020.

All of the equipment is in place. The boiler system will begin running by mid-November, Krumenauer said, and the rest of the system will be in production at the start of 2020.

The first three months of 2020 will focus on startup and commissioning in preparation for the plant to work at one-third capacity for the rest of the year, a common process that assures production goes well when the plant works at full capacity in 2021, he said.

At full capacity, the plant is expected to produce 80,000-90,000 tons of torrefied wood in a year.

The plant will provide 15-17 new positions, and seven people have already been hired. The pay ranges from $15-$25 per hour for the five different job types available. Some of the positions require expertise, but some training will be offered as well.

The torrefaction plant was built at the Malheur Lumber mill in John Day. The two separate businesses now share some of the same machinery, Krumenauer said, and the wood the mill cannot use to produce high-value, dimensional lumber will be used by the torrefaction plant.

“These guys (Malheur Lumber) can get a more consistent supply of the log that they need to keep the mill running, and we (Restoration Fuels) get to find another market outlet for the waste that traditionally hasn’t had a market and has not allowed local contractors to plan and effectively invest in their own operations,” Krumenauer said.

The plant will turn biomass, such as small-diameter trees that have little economic value, into torrified wood that can be sold. With additional value from the biomass, restoration projects on the forest cost less and are more efficient.

The torrefaction plant can also use other forms of biomass.

John Shelk, the managing director of Ochoco Lumber, which owns Malheur Lumber, shared that the John Day mill currently has about 15,000 tons of wood fiber, which is primarily used for paper. But when demand for fiber from paper mills is low, the supply backs up in John Day, which can now be used by the torrefaction plant.

Krumenauer said Restoration Fuels is in discussions with utilities from Europe and Asia and several power plants in the United States as possible customers.

“We believe that we have a mission to support the broader market development, and we would like the opportunity to use this plant to get as many potential users to evaluate this type of fuel before we lock in a firm, long-term off-take,” he said. “We will provide initial deliveries to customers in 2020 while we continue to work through the current negotiations on long-term sales contracts.”

Krumenauer said plant construction costs were about $17.5 million, provided primarily by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities with some development expenses provided by the Forest Service and air pollution-reducing equipment funded by the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund.

Local businesses have benefited as well.

“We’re spending quite a bit of money at the local Ace Hardware store. A lot of the renting equipment are through JD Rents,” he said. “I think we bought out all the water and Gatorade that the grocery store has.”

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