New Business Venture to Build First-Ever Wood Kiln in Fairbanks; Acquires Superior Pellet Fuels
Chad Schumacher, general manager of Aurora Energy Solutions (left); Joe Usibelli Jr., managing member of Usibelli Investments; and Rob Brown, president of Aurora Energy Solutions (right), stand in front of a wood chip pile at the North Pole manufacturing facility. The wood chips will eventually be converted into premium-grade wood pellets and compressed log products.
Project to bring cleaner air, new jobs, more efficient energy
Aurora Energy Solutions, a new company owned by Usibelli Investments, has acquired the assets of Superior Pellet Fuels (SPF) and is constructing a state-of-the-art wood kiln. The kiln will produce clean-burning dry firewood that will help the greater Fairbanks area achieve required reductions in PM 2.5 emissions.
“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,” said Joe Usibelli Jr., Managing Member of Usibelli Investments.
In 2018, a task force called the Fairbanks Air Quality Stakeholders Group considered many possible remedies to help bring the Fairbanks area into compliance with requirements of the federal Clean Air Act. One proposed solution, which received unanimous support from the stakeholders, was to bring a wood kiln to Fairbanks that would allow the production of reliable, clean-burning dry firewood.
“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,” said Usibelli. “Superior Pellet Fuels has offered premium wood pellets and compressed logs to the community for the last ten 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.”
Timber is harvested from within 100 miles of the greater Fairbanks area and is primarily from forests that have been affected by fire, wind, and flood damage.
Rob Brown, president of Aurora Energy Solutions, stated that the energy for the wood kiln would come from the district heat system of the Aurora Energy coal-fired power 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.”
Chad Schumacher, former general manager of Superior Pellet Fuels, will serve as the new general manager of Aurora Energy Solutions and will oversee the new kiln and the continued wood pellet and compressed log operations. Schumacher said that tremendous opportunities lie ahead for both operations. “Because of the investments being made by Aurora Energy Solutions, 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 Solutions has purchased a wood drying kiln from SII that will be able to dry firewood to 20 percent or less moisture content in approximately 48 hours. The kiln is expected to arrive this summer and be operational this fall.
Aurora Energy Solutions President Rob Brown said the new venture creates ten new jobs (six full-time and four part-time) and will provide other benefits to the community. “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,” said Brown.
The company 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 North Pole.
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Spreading the Word
When Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) first aired TV commercials featuring the tagline, “A Place That’s Always Been,” the reaction was surprising. Not only because they received numerous accolades and marketing awards for the campaign but because, at the time, it was rare for Alaska Native corporations to market themselves through the media.