Two relative newcomers to the Arkansas roster of chemical companies continue to grow their Phillips County operations since setting up shop.
In July, Enviro Tech Chemical Services Inc. opened a 25,000-SF automated packaging addition to its $8 million plant in the Helena Harbor Industrial Complex. The company, based in Modesto, California, expects its current workforce of 69 to reach 75 in the next few weeks with even more hires coming this winter.
Employment at the Solfuels USA biodiesel facility now stands at 35, double the head count from a year ago. The increase reflects the Memphis-headquartered venture’s steadily ramping up output at its 38.2-acre complex a mile south of Helena-West Helena.
The plant has operated on a five-day workweek with three eight-hour shifts for the past three months. The company is looking to go to a 24/7, four-shift program by the end of the year.
Steve Lewis, production manager of the Solfuels plant, said the 40 million-gallon facility is operating at about 25 percent capacity, headed toward a goal of 66 percent.
“We intend to speed up to 2.2 million gallons a month by end of year,” Lewis said. “We’re probably around 800,000 per month now.”
Solfuels has expanded production output in the months since acquiring the shuttered Delta American Fuel plant in December 2016 for $3 million. Solfuels USA represents a 51-49 joint venture of two Singapore concerns: Agritrade Resources Ltd. and Solfuels Holdings Pte. Ltd.
The venture has invested $20 million to retrofit the plant to handle a broader menu of feedstock to include yellow grease, rendered animal fats, inedible corn oil and refined vegetable oil. An acid wash facility was added in May to clean feedstock and make the plant more efficient.
“Our production numbers are up since then,” Lewis said. “We were learning a lot. We’re in the process of adding a filtration system that will help our throughput more.”
The filtration upgrade will provide the flexibility to produce even cleaner biodiesel.
“If I improve the purity of the product, I can get a better price for it,” Lewis said.
Among the plant’s customers is the Pilot Flying J travel center chain based in Knoxville, Tennessee. The biodiesel produced by Solfuels is hauled by tanker truck to Pilot’s blending facilities in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee before making its way to retail outlets.
“We sell contracts and work out the schedules,” Lewis said. “They transport it.”
So far, barges and trucks have provided delivery of feedstock to the plant. Rail, used to ship the product out West, could come into play for feedstock deliveries as dictated by logistics and pricing.
Premium-grade biodiesel fuel ac-counts for 90 percent of production. The remaining 10 percent is a byproduct of the chemical conversion of waste to biodiesel: glycerin.
Most Solfuels glycerin travels an export route via 20-foot containers hauled by truck to port for shipping overseas to China. The crude glycerin, typically at least 80 percent pure, can be further refined to improve the purity of the viscous liquid and make it more valuable for use in a wide range of industrial applications.
“We’re trying to push it higher than 80 percent,” Lewis said.
Food & Water Applications
Seven miles south of the Solfuels facility, the Enviro Tech plant is producing peracetic acid (PAA) to support the company’s lineup of antimicrobials used by customers to maintain food safety and water quality.
Earlier this year, Enviro Tech announced that the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District in Denver began disinfecting its wastewater effluent with one of its PAA products in a full-scale demonstration.
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“This was our first major account,” said Brent Bankosky, chief operating officer at Enviro Tech. “Wastewater is something we’re trying to get our foot in the door. We’re slowly but surely trying to get our foot in the door in other places.”
PAA doesn’t have to be removed from wastewater after performing its disinfecting work, unlike chlorine. Sunlight essentially evaporates PAA, making it a greener alternative.
While chlorine remains the dominant choice for treating wastewater and stormwater in America, PAA has been deployed as a disinfectant in Europe and Canada for three decades.
“We were already frontrunners in working with it,” Bankosky said.
The Arkansas plant operates two shifts, and Enviro Tech officials are looking to add a third shift by winter that would entail hiring eight to 10 employees. That would push the staff total to 85.
The company’s PAA products also are used by the food industry in different mediums, including water, ice, preparation surfaces and direct contact with meat, fruit and vegetables.
Opened in January 2015, the Arkansas Enviro Tech facility now encompasses 160,000 SF, which could accommodate 315 workers when producing at capacity.