SPOTLIGHT: Five Questions with Mid-South’s Chris Brown

Mid-South has provided engineering services for many large pellet facilities in the U.S., projects ranging from minor upgrades and troubleshooting to complete facility design on both greenfield and brownfield projects
By Five Questions with Chris Brown | January 13, 2023

BMM: Tell us a bit about your background and what you do at Mid-South.

Brown: I have been with Mid-South since June 1996. For the first 20 years, my role was as a project engineer and project manager. This involved directing our engineering efforts on various projects in the wood products industry. Since 2015, I have led our project planning group, responsible for project development, feasibility studies and related activities.

BMM: What sectors of the bioenergy industry or types of projects are keeping Mid-South busy?

Brown: We continue to see capital investment by wood pellet facilities in expansion projects. We are also seeing building products facilities looking at small, add-on type pellet production systems. Additional engagement is coming in the form of biochar, waste-to-energy, and renewable diesel project opportunities.

BMM: What would you say is the most common misconception or shortcoming when it comes to planning and launching a new project?

Brown: Defining the project scope up front and then preventing scope creep is always a challenge. When a project expands beyond the originally approved plan, the result is scope creep. Among the keys to keeping this to a minimum: establishing a clear understanding of the project requirements and goals; having a clear, concise scope; and developing a method for evaluating and approving—or denying—scope additions.

BMM: Mid-South has provided engineering services for many large pellet facilities in the U.S., projects ranging from minor upgrades and troubleshooting to complete facility design on both greenfield and brownfield projects. For a new project, what about a project planning checklist—what top critical action items should be on that list and why?

Brown: Many different cliches come to mind, but my current favorite is this: “Plan the work, then work the plan.” To plan the work, first, agree on the goals of the project. Investigate available options for achieving the project goals. Once an option has been selected, develop the scope and budget for the selected option. As stated above, a detailed scope document will assist in keeping the execution of the project within the overall project plan. Finally, execute or work the plan to project completion.

BMM: Mid-South has been working with companies in the bioenergy space for a long time. How critical is it to engage an experienced company?

Brown: If the only reason that you need an engineer is to provide concrete and steel design, then it will not make any difference who you partner with for engineering services. However, partnering with an engineer who is familiar with the pellet process, for example, understands the challenges and risk factors, and who has a history of successful projects will save you valuable time and costs in executing the project. The most efficient way to spend capital is to do it while the project is still on the drawing board, rather than having to modify a poor design once it is in the field. Couple that with the current supply chain and labor constraints, and the value of a totally engineered solution increases.