CHESTERFIELD — A local company will soon start manufacturing high-quality, premium-grade wood pellets for home and commercial heating systems.
Essex Pallet and Pellet is putting the finishing touches on the automated pellet-production line. Co-owner Mike Lemza said he will start taking pre-production orders Aug. 1 and hopes to start production as early as Aug. 12.
The pellets will be made from sawdust and wood waste created during the pallet-making operation. Lemza said it will create a closed-loop system that will virtually eliminate waste at the factory, located in Keeseville Industrial Park in the Town of Chesterfield.
"This process will really clean up our sawdust issue," he said.
The sawdust and ground-up wood scraps will be blown through tubes into the new addition that houses the drying equipment. It will land in two metering bins on the upper level, one for hardwood and one for softwood.
The pellets will be made from a mixture of 80 percent hardwood and 20 percent softwood sawdust. A programmable logic controller allows for one-button adjustments to the production rate.
The sawdust will then flow down to the drying machine on the lower level. The new industrial boiler used to power the dryers will be fueled by waste pallets that companies ship back to Essex Pallet and Pellet when they are ready for a new order.
"To make a good pellet, we have to get the moisture down to about 10 percent before you squeeze it into a pellet," Lemza said.
The dried sawdust will then enter another bin before it is blown into a retention bin in the main building, which will hold about an hour's supply.
A conditioner unit on top of the pellet-milling machine will allow steam and some vegetable oil to be added, the latter of which will help keep the system lubricated. That mixture then enters the milling machine, where a 150-horsepower motor spins a drum that squeezes it into the tiny holes to shape the pellets.
The pellets come out warm and slightly soft, at a consistency where they can be bent or broken by hand. A conveyor will then raise the pellets to the top of the counter-flow cooler.
That will pull in ambient air to cool the pellets. A bucket elevator will then bring the pellets to the top of an automated bagging system.
That machine holds a roll of film that is formed into tubes that are filled to the desired weight, then sealed.
A worker will then stack the bags on pallets with 50 bags that weigh 40 pound each. Lemza said the pallet will automatically lower as the bags are stacked, a more ergonomic process for the worker.
The production line will produce about 1.5 tons of pellets per hour, Lemza said.
Lemza said he and his wife, Colleen, purchased Essex Box and Pallet. They built the present location at 49 Industrial Park Road in 2001 and moved the business from Essex in January 2002.
There are presently 15 employees, up from 12 in November. If pellet sales go well, he might run a second shift for that operation within a year or so, and possibly hire up to eight additional employees.
While other businesses that sell wood pellets might use a variety of suppliers, Lemza said Essex Pallet and Pellet will produce pellets of consistent quality. Customers will also know they are produced locally.
Lemza said his plan has been well received, with numerous people calling to leave their name so they can be among the first to place an order.
"The response has been overwhelming to what we're going to do here," he said.
Lemza said they have commitments for almost 200 tons of pellets already, even though they won't take orders until Aug. 1.
The expansion is a $900,000 project. That includes a $450,000 loan from Champlain National Bank, a $225,000 loan from the Essex County IDA and a $225,000 Rural Energy for America Program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It also required approval from the Adirondack Park Agency.
Essex County Industrial Development Agency Co-Executive Director Carol Calabrese said it was great to assist an environmentally friendly project that will create products to be marketed and sold locally.
"This will maximize the use of this raw material. I think it is about as green a project as you can get," she said. "This is a perfect example of how you can do business in the Adirondack Park."
Lemza said Town of Chesterfield Supervisor Gerald Morrow has also been a strong supporter of the project. Morrow said the Lemzas have put a lot of hard work into their company.
"Michael Lemza and Essex Pallet and Pellet have been an excellent advocate for alternative fuels and how to diversify and bring good jobs to the community," he said.
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