Permitting process for AEG CoalSwitch plant impacted by COVID-19

By Erin Voegele | April 03, 2020

U.K.-based Active Energy Group plc announced on March 30 that the public comment period for the construction and air permit needed for the company’s proposed CoalSwitch plant in Lumberton, North Carolina, has been extended through April 27 due to the COVID-19 crisis. AEG announced the following day that it has entered into an agreement to acquire 100 percent ownership of the law mill and saw log export activities at the Lumberton site.

According to AEG, the extension of the comment period was issued in response to the cancellation of a public meeting that had been scheduled for March 16. The company said the North Carolina Division of Air Quality will continue to accept public comments on the draft permit before final action. A previous extension had been granted through March 27.

Active Energy’s CoalSwitch technology produces a high-calorific, high-bulk-density biomass pellets. According to the company, CoalSwitch is produced primarily from forestry waste and other industrial cellulose waste products. The product can be fired with coal in existing coal-fired power plants at any ratio, up to 100 percent.

The company is seeking a permit that would allow the Lumberton plant to produce 5 metric tons per hour of the CoalSwitch product. Permit documents explain the plant will receive dry wood chips as feedstock. Those chips will then be pressure cooked using steam from a natural gas-fired boiler. This pressure cooker process uses a steam explosion process to separate the cellulosic materials from the hemicellulosic materials and terpene chemicals in the wood. Wet cellulosic material from the pressure cooker will be set to a screw press for additional de-watering prior to sending to a pellet press. Finished pellets will pass through a gas-fired dryer to remove any residual surface moisture before being transported via conveyor to a pellet storage bin.

In its March 31 announcement AEG said it has entered into an acquisition agreement with its joint venture partner Renewable Logistics Systems LLC. Under the agreement, AEG will secure 100 percent control and ownership of the saw mill and log export activities based at AEG’s industrial site in Lumberton. Those operations are currently operating through a joint venture. AEG will acquire control of the joint venture, named Renewable Energy Systems LLC, and consolidate all the existing lumber activities at the site through Active Energy Renewable Power LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary.

AEG said the transaction will improve the overall efficiency of the Lumberton site so the company can optimize the existing revenue streams and enhance future profitably. Sawmill operations at Lumberton commenced in late 2019. Low- value waste products produced at the site will be used to produce CoalSwitch and other black pellet fuels.