Hess, Highland Pellets win biomass industry awards

By Anna Simet | April 11, 2017

BBI International and Biomass Magazine have named their annual industry award winners as J. Richard Hess of Idaho National Laboratory and Highland Pellets of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

The awards were presented prior to the general session of the International Biomass Conference & Expo being held in Minnesota, Minneapolis, April 10-13.

Hess received the Excellence in Bioenergy Award, which recognizes individuals who demonstrate the drive and effort to clear financial, technological, or political hurdles that impact the bioenergy industry.

Hess has been on the leading edge of the effort to make the collection and conversion of the U.S.’s abundant agricultural biomass resources more feasible. During his career, Hess has managed the bioenergy program at one of the country’s top national laboratories, managing the design and construction of a U.S. DOE demonstration unit. Hess has co-authored numerous reports, including the 2003 paper, “Roadmap for Agriculture Biomass Feedstock Supply in the United States.” Listed on several patents, Hess holds a doctorate in plant sciences from Utah State University, and a master’s and bachelor’s degree in botany from Brigham Young University.

“For the past 20 years, we’ve been working on understanding the variability and challenges associated with biomass, and getting it into a form that that is conversion ready,” Hess said. “I’ve progressed in my career, and I have realized that what we’re doing here is building a new value resource, a primary producer resource, for this nation and the world, and I’m so excited to have been part of this. Thank you BBI for this honor.”

Highland Pellets was named recipient of the Groundbreaker of the Year Award, which recognizes a project team that has persevered through the multitude of challenges to bring a project to fruition.

Plans for the 600,000 metric-ton, $229 million plant were initially announced in August of 2014, and the company engaged Astec Inc. as engineering, procurement and construction contractor. The project was completed on time and under budget, and began commissioning late last year.

Highland employs 68 people directly, and nearly 1,000 in indirect jobs in Jefferson County and surrounding communities. The direct financial impact on the Pine Bluff area is more than $86 million annually, according to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, which, along with the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, worked closely with Highland Pellets on the project, providing tax incentives to help the company prepare the plant’s industrial site infrastructure.

The facility will use about 1.4 million tons of wood feedstock annually, mostly southern yellow pine. Pellets produced at the facility will be transported by Union Pacific on mainline rail to the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for export to Europe.

This is the first wood pellet facility Highland Pellets has built, and the company plans to build additional facilities in neighboring states.

 Accepting the award on behalf of Highland Pellets were Media Director Kirk Duffy and Director of Finance Alex Adome. “Thank you very much to BBI for this very prestigious award,” Adome said. “About a year ago, we had nothing on the ground. To have gone from that, to a production facility today, has been quite a daunting task. Behind me was a representing team, partners and a community that have been truly amazing. It’s a very exciting industry to be in.”