A $60 million sugar cane conversion facility called the B2X plant is nearing completion and will be ready to open in early fall in Raceland, according to plant manager Carey Buckles.
Construction began in February of 2015. Walkthroughs of the plant to check for completion and accuracy began this week.
"We’re kind of in that check out and commissioning phase,” Buckles said. "We’re just entering that ... this week. That takes several months as construction releases pieces of the plant to the operations team who go into the checkout and commissioning phase where we start to test things and ensure that they operate as designed.”
The plant will test extraction and separation technology on bagasse, which is sugar cane waste. Technology at the plant extracts xylose sugar from the bagasse, which is not extracted during the sugar mill process. Xylose can be converted to xylitol, which can then be used in commercial products such as chewing gum, toothpaste and mouthwash.
While sugar mills rely on the cane harvest for seasonal operation, the B2X plant would operate year-round. B2X will use bagasse from its neighbor, Raceland Raw Sugar. The plant is located across from the mill off La. 182.
The plans for the plant began in Danville, Va. at a smaller pilot plant. The B2X plant is the next step to test the technology and commercial viability of the process. Depending on how production at this plant goes, the technology could be implemented for greater commercial impact.
"It’s not like opening another Walmart,” Buckles said. "[That has] been done 1,500 times before. It’s not. It’s like developing the size and scale and depth and breadth that you should go. It has a different set of dynamics for it.”
This is Buckles’ third time managing a project like this. He said that knowing that many research projects in this type of field do not make it to commercialization makes ventures like this even sweeter.
"There are not many projects that continue to validate themselves through these paces,” Buckles said. "Many of them get eliminated so it’s an exciting thing to see it make its way towards true large commodity scale commercialization. That’s where we’re headed. That’s an exciting thing to happen in a little town like Raceland.”
Employees have been training and working out of a temporary office space near Houma, but will move to the plant once the walkthrough is completed in the next few months. The temporary office space is leased from Fletcher Community College.
"We targeted a relationship with Fletcher Community College because they have a specific program for developing the base skill needed in hourly employees to run these types of facilities,” Buckles said.
Many of these employees are local and were hired in 2015, which came at a time of increased demand for jobs.
"The roll through effect of additional jobs you can create beyond our direct hires is also an important effect,” Buckles said. "Our uniform suppliers, our tools, our parts, our repairs facility are all local. We’re trying to connect to the machine shop and welding shop just like any other developing industry in this area. We want to be as local as we can because it just makes good business sense.”
by Emma Discher, www.HoumaToday.com