Enviva inflates first pellet storage dome at North Carolina port

By Katie Fletcher | June 22, 2015

Last week Enviva inflated the first of two 170-foot wood pellet storage domes located on North Carolina State Ports’ property in Wilmington for shipment to Europe. Now that the outer shell is up, work has begun inside the dome.

On June 15 at 4:30 a.m., fans were turned on to begin inflating the heavy polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material, which gives the dome its shape, like a balloon on top of a 175-feet-in-diameter concrete pad. Three hours later, a dome with the capacity to hold 45,000 metric tons of pellets was erected. Here is a time lapse video of the dome’s inflation. The company’s storage domes are built by Dome Technology of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Dome Technology also supplied Enviva’s domes at the deep water terminal Enviva acquired in 2011 at the Port of Chesapeake in Virginia.

The erected PVC airform serves as the air-supported structure for applying additional building layers. It creates a protected environment allowing for construction to continue inside the dome. Multiple layers of polyurethane foam are applied to the PVC airform. This layer plays a structural role in supporting the first layers of steel malting and concrete. The foam also acts as a thermal insulator, protecting both the concrete dome structure and the product stored inside. The dome is sprayed with extra concrete over the matting and successive layers of steel and concrete are added. “Now that the dome is up, everybody is now working inside,” said Kent Jenkins, vice president of communications. “That process will take a while to get completely finished, but at the end of the day, it’s built to withstand hurricane-force winds and an 8.0 earthquake.”

Besides being engineered to withstand 300 mile-per-hour winds and shocks as high as eight on the Richter scale, the domes have integrated safety systems, including automated temperature controls, dust controls and fire suppression systems. “The trucks and trains will pull up right near the dome loaded with pellets,” Jenkins said. “They will be able to unload their cargo directly onto a conveyor, which will take the pellets into the top of the dome, keeping the pellets protected from the weather until a ship comes in.”

Railcars and approximately 60 to 70 trucks are expected to take pellets from the company’s 500,000-metric-ton annual capacity pellet plant under construction in Sampson County to the Port of Wilmington. The Sampson plant was reported as being on target during Enviva’s first quarter financial results, both facilities expected to be operational in the first quarter of 2016. Construction on the second dome is expected to begin in mid-to-late July. “They are, in effect, being built in tandem, because you want to get the production ramped up, so the Port of Wilmington can start receiving pellets.”

Once placed in the dome, a network of conveyors move the pellets directly onto the ships. At full capacity, Enviva expects about 30 to 40 ships to call at the Wilmington port.

In 2015, Enviva will provide over 2 million tons of wood pellets to coal-fired power plants in the U.K., Europe and Asia. In the South, the Enviva family of companies include Enviva Partners LP, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and the Enviva Development Holdings LLC, a wholly-owned private subsidiary. Through these two entities, Enviva owns and operates six—seven with Sampson—pellet plants, two deep-water marine terminals, one in Chesapeake and now one in Wilmington, and also exports from Panama City, Florida, and Mobile, Alabama.

“I think it’s consequential this is a very significant investment in Wilmington and in eastern North Carolina,” Jenkins said. “It gives us a way to very cost effectively serve customers and potential customers in Europe.”

Altogether, the plant and port facility is a $150 million investment, which is expected to employ more than 650 people. The Port of Wilmington is adjacent to a residential neighborhood. As part of an effort to alleviate the residents of Sunset Parks Neighborhood Associations’ concerns over their quality of life being negatively impacted by Enviva’s presence at the port, Enviva Wilmington Holdings LLC signed a good neighbor agreement with the residents, each establishing principles they plan to uphold under the agreement. “The leadership of the Sunset Park Neighborhood Association told us this was the first time business in Wilmington had reached an agreement like this, and we were very happy to do it,” Jenkins said. “We’re also very happy to play a significant role in the community of Wilmington and to be a part of building the economy in eastern North Carolina.”