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Prima America is bringing jobs to Groveton

This elevation drawing gives an idea of what the completed renovations on the former Wausau Carriers building will look like when Prima America finishes work on their synthetic fuel pilot plant. (click for larger version)
January 12, 2011
GROVETON — Prima America, a division of Prima Environment of Canada, a privately held and financed corporation, is moving forward with its plans to create the first "pilot plant" in the United States to manufacture synthetic diesel fuel. Last fall, Prima America acquired the former Wausau Carriers Trucking terminal and warehouse, located on Route 3, north of Groveton.

The company's president, Michel Bisson, has announced that it has received the necessary variances from the town's zoning board to expand the existing warehouse building at the plant site. In addition their site plan also received approval from the town's planning board. They have also been granted the appropriate permits needed from the Department of Environmental Services (DES) to address certain wetlands issues. Bisson said that they are now well into the design, planning and scheduling process with local construction contractors for the building retro-fit and equipment installation.

What does this mean for Groveton's sluggish economy? Jobs. Bisson said that Prima has already hired former Wausau Papers employee, David Auger, to be the new office manager. Auger will also be coordinating the shipment and receipt of equipment and machinery for the plant and the lab. Bisson said that by June, they should be ready to bring in a core staff of 5-6 employees, mostly engineers and chemists, to assist in the installation and set-up of the computerized manufacturing equipment. Bisson also said that they will likely be hiring up to two dozen more people, by early fall, to make up the manufacturing staff. He said Prima plans to employ primarily people from within the local work force. According to Auger, most of those previously employed at the paper mills already possess most of, if not all, the skills required to perform the necessary tasks involved in this manufacturing process "It is expected that once operational, the plant will be operated with three shifts per day, seven days a week," said Bisson.

Bisson explained how he, along with help from Prima's engineers and chemists, has developed a process that breaks down almost any type of organic material into a powdered form and then, through their exclusive process, transforms the powder into a liquid. It is then chemically processed into a synthetic diesel fuel. Bisson stressed that his company will be manufacturing a "synthetic "fuel product, not a "bio" fuel. He explained that the difference is that bio-fuel is generally produced by transforming fat, grease, vegetable oil or other food-crop based products into an ethanol-type fuel; whereas the synthetic product can be produced from virtually any type of organic waste product, such as forestry products, sawdust and pallets, as well as most types of solid waste.

Bisson stated, "We have two basic visions: One is to clean the air, land and water by utilizing, what has previously been considered to be waste products, to produce clean fuel. The other is to reduce the current, massive consumption of our food crops to manufacture bio-fuel, such as ethanol." "We also plan to use only waste products from within this region to produce fuel that will be sold and used in this region." Bisson added.

The process results in about 40% of the solid waste being transformed into fuel. About 10% is turned into a usable gas. The balance of the solid waste ends up as sludge. The sludge is then reprocessed to extract all remaining fuel. The end result is about 5%-10% of the original product ending up as activated carbon. "This carbon is quite a valuable commodity," said Bisson. The process uses up virtually all of the initial solid material. Prima's goal, through this process, is to clean the environment, not generate pollution. Bisson estimates that, at full capacity the plant will produce about 4 million gallons of fuel/year. This total may vary depending on the available supply of raw materials in the region.

Bisson expects that the solid waste products will be processed into powder form at the acquisition site then transported to the plant to be converted into diesel fuel. "It is a very technical process from start to finish and it involves many specialized machines to complete the transformation from solid waste to fuel." said Bisson. Bisson added that there will not be a lot of trucks coming and going. There will be an average of 2 trucks per day bringing in the raw material and one truck a day leaving with the synthetic fuel.

The first shipment of computer-controlled equipment and machinery has already arrived at the Prima plant location. According to Auger, about half of the equipment is being manufactured in Europe, while Prima manufactures the rest themselves. Prima's offices and laboratory will be housed in the smaller building near the highway, while the manufacturing facility will be located in the former 50,000 square foot warehouse building located next to the railway in the back.

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