DEP issues building permit for biomass plant

By Sarah Richardson

After falling out of the public eye for several months, PPD of WV One has taken another step toward the construction of a biomass plant in the Sam Black Area. On Oct. 7, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued a construction permit to PPD of WV One for the “Greenbrier Synthetic Fuel Plant.”

During a Jan. 23, 2018 Greenbrier County Commission meeting, a crowd of concerned residents from the Sam Black area attended to hear a presentation by Jason Perry, a representative of PPD of WV One, on the development of the plant. The plant is intended to turn slash, by-products left from logging operations, into low-sulphur diesel fuel. The diesel fuel produced by such facilities is the number one and number two road-rated diesel fuel, according to Perry.

Along with producing fuel, the plant would make a unique organic fertilizer called biochar, a stable solid that is rich in carbon. For every ton of biochar that is produced, half a ton of water is gathered. The plant is then able to turn the water into potable water after filtering it. In total, the plant can produce up to 6.5 million gallons of fuel and 7,200 tons of biochar per year.

Residents were mainly concerned about emissions and noise coming from the facility, including any smokestack emissions that would be produced. Perry was quick to dispel these rumors, stating, “We don’t have emissions, we don’t have smokestacks coming out into the air. The tallest building we have is around 32 feet tall, and is basically just a steel building. The site itself is, in a sense, benign. We are not an incineration system. We have no open flame, we do not burn anything. So in other words, we are basically just heating up elements to the point where it is 1,600 degrees Celsius, and those elements are vaporized upon moving through our ‘chip’ unit. Those gasses are then reformed and refined into diesel fuel.” He went on to emphasize, “The idea that our plant is burning material is false.” Electricity is used to heat up the elements instead of gas, since it is a more stable heat source.

The vaporation system used in the process is closed-circuit. All the gasses produced during the process are captured and rerun through the system, re-circulated until everything is processed. “We use 100 percent of all the materials we put through it,” Perry explained.

The construction permit states, “The open burning of refuse by any person, firm, corporation, association or public agency is prohibited,” as well as, “No person shall cause, suffer, allow or permit the discharge of air pollutants which cause or contribute to an objectionable odor at any location occupied by the public.” It goes on to say, “The permittee shall maintain a record of all odor complaints received, any investigation performed in response to such a complaint, and any responsive action(s) taken.”

The document also specifies that there will be frequent monitoring and testing of all parts of the facility, and “the amount of biomass processed through the facility shall not exceed 173,812 tons per year,” and the “total amount of fuel produced shall not exceed 6,570,000 gallons per year.”

Perry states that a main focus of the company is to have a minimal impact on the environment. He says the facility is designed to be completely carbon-neutral, even when you include the carbon emissions made from using the fuel created by the facility. Other plants built by the company that produce power instead of fuel are actually carbon-negative. “It’s an amazing amount of carbon that we capture and sequester,” said Perry. He also cited a study done by the University of Tennessee which showed that when using biochar, plant and crop growth increased 60-70 percent, while reducing the amount of water consumption by 80-90 percent.

According to Perry’s information at the 2018 meeting, the proposed facility would employ around 100 people.