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US Methanol plant breaks ground in Institute


Charleston Gazette-Mail

INSTITUTE, W.Va. — Chemical manufacturing startup US Methanol held a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for its Liberty One methanol plant in Institute, as company representatives and state and local officials touted the event as a sign of economic advancement in West Virginia.

US Methanol CEO Frank Bakker, center, and board of directors member Richard Wolfi, left, talk with state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher after breaking ground for a new methanol plant in Institute Wednesday.
(Gazette-Mail photo by Chris Dorst)

US Methanol expects production to start in mid-2018 and says the plant, located at the Dow Chemical Facility, has the capacity to produce approximately 200,000 metric tons of methanol per year. The plant will create approximately 50 permanent jobs, US Methanol CEO Frank Bakker said.

Gov. Jim Justice said in a speech at the groundbreaking that the development is a much-needed indicator of progress in the state.

“West Virginia is really on the move, it’s really going somewhere, and this is for real,” he said of the plant. “Absolutely for real.”

US Methanol now is based in Charleston after being founded in California in 2014. The plant, which will be made with parts of a deconstructed methanol plant from Brazil, is the company’s first it will construct.

“Who saw that coming? I didn’t,” Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission, said of the plant’s development. “I’ve seen plants torn down and taken away from us and moved overseas, but today truly is a new day.”

Bakker compared the reconstruction of the plant to building with Lego toy bricks.

“It’s easy to take apart, but hard to put back together, which is why we’re hoping you all can do that for us,” Bakker said in a speech, referring to Bilfinger Westcon, the project’s primary contractor.

US Methanol found the Institute site appealing because of nearby access to barge shipping lanes as well as truck and rail transportation options, Bakker said. Nearby manufacturers such as Chemours and DuPont are expected to be frequent customers of US Methanol, according to Bakker.

Methanol is obtained from natural gas and is used in the production of fuel, LED and LCD screens, pharmaceuticals and more.

“Methanol is used in all sorts of fancy technology, like silicone and gasoline,” Bakker said. “Everyone uses it in their daily lives.”

Approximately 300 temporary construction jobs have been created to construct the plant. Mark Peterson, CEO of Bilfinger Westcon, said most of the workers hired will be within a 200-mile radius of the plant but said he wasn’t sure how many will be from West Virginia. The project will be managed and run out of Bilfinger Westcon’s Canton, Ohio, office, he added.

“I can’t say all of [the workers] will be from physically around here, but I would say that most of them would be from the area,” Peterson said.

Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades, which works with union construction workers in the state, said having the primary contractor be based out of North Dakota is “disappointing” because a West Virginia-based contractor would likely prioritize hiring within the state.

“The industrial construction industry is pretty slow around here,” he said. “We have ironworkers and carpenters that need jobs.”

Bakker said the plant already has been dismantled in Brazil and about 80 percent of it is boxed and ready to be shipped from the Port of Rio de Janeiro. That shipment is anticipated to arrive at the Dow Chemical Facility in October, he said.

Bakker said environmental safety is a priority for US Methanol and him personally after 28 years in the chemical industry. Prior to US Methanol, Bakker was president of OCI Partners LP, which operates an integrated methanol and ammonia production facility near Beaumont, Texas.

“We’re committed to making sure this plant will be safe, reliable and environmentally sustainable,” he said.

The local citizens group People Concerned About Chemical Safety has appealed the air pollution permit that the state Department of Environmental Protection issued for the plant.

Among other things, the organization is concerned the operation will not have adequate pollution controls and that leaks or other incidents could endanger nearby residents. A hearing before the state Air Quality Board is scheduled to start on Sept. 18.

US Methanol’s relationship with West Virginia is expected to continue, as Bakker said the company will relocate a Slovenia methanol plant to the Mountain State. Bakker said the location has not yet been determined, but added that he is pushing for the plant to also be located at the Dow Chemical Facility.

Reach Max Garland at [email protected], 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.

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