AEG almost ready to put Lumberton biomass facility into operation

Tomeka Sinclair, The Robesonian, Lumberton, N.C.
·3 min read

Apr. 10—LUMBERTON — Active Energy Group is in the finishing stages of re-outfitting the former Alamac American Knits plant for use as the base of its biomass processing operations, called Active Energy Renewable Power.

"The new manufacturing technology is expected to be installed, tested and begin operations in the coming week," said Michael Rowan, CEO of Active Energy Group. "This will complement existing lumber mill activities."

The company is installing the equipment necessary to produce CoalSwitch, a product that burns like coal but is made from waste residual biomass products.

"Our CoalSwitch reduces the CO2 emissions associated with energy production at coal fired power plants," Rowan said. "We are on track to produce 900 tons of CoalSwitch for a demonstration with a coal fired power plant in Utah later this spring."

Active Energy Group, a United Kingdom-based forestry management company, acquired the nearly 60-year-old, 415,000-square-foot facility and surrounding acreage two years ago from Alamac Holdings as part of a $50 million investment the company anticipates making in Robeson County.

The Alamac American Knits plant permanently closed its doors in 2017 because of Hurricane Matthew, forcing 154 textile employees out of work. Floodwaters from the hurricane never entered the structure at 1885 Alamac Road, which sits on 148 acres of land. The water that got into the building was rainwater that entered after a 30,000-square-foot piece of roofing blew away in the storm.

Repairs to the roof and to damaged electrical equipment that caused the plant to become idle and brought production to a halt was a major factor in the decision to permanently close the plant.

"The plant was emptied of all contents by the fall of 2019," Rowan said. "In early 2020, we established a small-scale active lumber mill, producing a range of lumber products. Our goal has been to use the waste residuals from these activities to provide the feedstock for the future manufacture of CoalSwitch fuel from the site."

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's Division of Air Quality issued in the summer of 2020 the permit for Active Energy Renewable Power to operate a wood pellet manufacturing facility. The decision was made in the wake of a June 22, 2020, digital public hearing.

This facility's application was reviewed by the DEQ to determine compliance with the requirements of the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission's air pollution regulations. The results of that review led to a preliminary determination that the project could be approved and the DEQ permit issued, if certain permit conditions are met.

The permit was challenged by residents concerned the operation would damage the surrounding environment and leak pollutants into the Lumber River.

"The plant was designed to address environmental concerns, and we will operate our plant in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations," Rowan said. "The company is working with all relevant regulators to show the environmental benefits both of the CoalSwitch fuel and the manufacturing process. The products we make reduce both emissions and pollution from coal fired power generation plants."

The permit includes added requirements to address the concerns of people in the community.

The conditions include stack testing of hazardous air pollutants, toxic air pollutants, and volatile organic compounds; stack testing to be conducted 90 days after startup instead of 180 days; facility-wide emissions to be reported every six months; and feedstock to be limited to 50% softwood.

Rowan said AEG is investing in new infrastructure at the site and installing new manufacturing technology, both inside and outside the plant for the forthcoming CoalSwitch operations.

"We've increased the number of staff from three to about 20, and we expect to have about 50 people on staff over the next two years," he said.

He predicts the first product delivery to commence during the second quarter of the fiscal year.

Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.