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District heating, wood kiln project takes shape in Alaska, US

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Aurora Energy Solutions, a new firm owned by Usibelli Investments, has acquired the assets of Superior Pellet Fuels (SPF) and is building a ‘state-of-the-art’ wood kiln in Alaska, US.

The kiln will produce clean-burning dry firewood to help the greater Fairbanks area achieve required reductions in PM 2.5 emissions.

Joe Usibelli Jr, managing member of Usibelli Investments, said: “We are excited to bring forward a meaningful solution that will help improve the air quality for residents and businesses in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

“This new facility will allow for the production of kiln-dried firewood that is far more efficient as a home heating resource, while also greatly reducing the emissions from wood burning.

“SPF has offered premium wood pellets and compressed logs to the community for the last 10 years. The combination of kiln-dried firewood, along with the reliable biomass products from SPF, provides residents and businesses with several cleaner-burning heating options that are locally sourced and manufactured right here in Alaska.

The company is investing in upgrades that will direct district heat to the operation of a wood kiln to reduce the burning of wet, unseasoned wood – a major cause of harmful emissions in the region. Rob Brown, president of Aurora Energy, said the energy for the wood kiln would come from the district heating system of the Aurora Energy coal-fired plant in downtown Fairbanks. “Aurora Energy district heat will flow into the kiln and dry the wood,” said Brown.

“This is a win-win situation. Our wood kiln can operate with zero new emissions, and the dry wood product we produce can have a dramatic impact on lowering PM 2.5 emissions and will improve air quality in the community.”

SII Dry Kilns of North Carolina, a firm specialising in the manufacturing and installation of kilns for the lumber and forest products sectors, is customising the kiln for Aurora Energy. The components of the kiln are due to arrive in August and enter operational service in the autumn.

Chad Schumacher, former general manager of SPF, will serve as the new general manager of Aurora Energy Solutions and oversee the new kiln and continued wood pellet and compressed log operations. “Because of the investments being made by Aurora Energy, the pellet plant operations can transition from seasonal to year-round,” said Schumacher.

“As a result of having a consistent employee base combined with improvements that will be made to existing infrastructure, we’ll not only gain operational efficiencies, but our customers can expect to see higher-quality premium pellets and compressed log products.”

Aurora Energy plans to offer wholesale and direct retail sales to consumers for kiln-dried firewood, premium wood pellets, and compressed logs at its locations in Fairbanks and the North Pole.

The new project will create 10 new jobs (six full-time and four part-time) and provide other community benefits. Brown added: “This project provides a home-grown solution for local challenges. There’s been a long-time problem of not having a reliable, year-round supply of high-quality, dry firewood. Now we’ll be able to produce up to 7,000 cords of dried firewood each year.”