Plant to bring jobs

Published 10:37pm Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Texas-based industry Zilkha Biomass Energy, has found a home in Selma producing renewable fuel in the form of Zilkha Black Pellets and has the potential to provide upwards of 50 high-paying jobs for Dallas County.

Zilkha purchased the former Dixie Pellets plant, located at Selfield Industrial Park, at a bankruptcy auction in May 2010, and both the company and county leaders said they are excited to join forces.

“We’re very excited that we were able to get [Zilkha Biomass Energy] here and will be able to work with them,” Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County Economic Development Authority said. “A lot of people have worked on this process, and we feel like they will be successful. We’re going to do everything we can to help them be successful.”

The company creates Zilkha Black Pellets, which are essentially a sustainable and renewable fuel that can be transported and burned by coal plants. However, unlike traditional compressed wood pellets, the hydrophobic Zilkha Black Pellets can’t be damaged by water, which means they don’t have to worry about moisture being absorbed into the wood.

“Wood is very hygroscopic. If it soaks up moisture, it’s heavier as far as shipping,” Vardaman said. “So that’s a big, big savings, and that’s their claim to fame, so to speak.”

Jesse Dickerman, director of business development for Zilkha Biomass said soon after purchasing the old Dixie Pellets plant that they realized Selma was going to be a great place for success.

“We’re confident that we’re going to have success here,” Dickerman said, noting the company’s success will largely be based on the employees in Selma.

Dickerman said between the help of the EDA and the natural resources already in place, Selma was an obvious choice to plant roots as the first full-scale commercial Zilkha Black Pellet plant in the world.

“Selma should be proud it’s going to have the first plant of its kind in the world — that’s a big deal,” Dickerman said. “We hope there’s going to be many more like it, but Selma’s always going to be the first.”

Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard said Zilkha is a very viable industry and one he looks forward to seeing thrive in Selma.

“They’re good folks. I’m glad they’re here, and we’re welcoming all the new jobs — that’s the only way we’ve got to add additional income in the county is for additional people to come here, build houses, live here and pay sales tax here, so we certainly welcome Zilkha with open arms,” Ballard said. “The good thing about this company is the jobs that they’ve got coming, are high paying jobs, so we’re really glad they are here.”

Vardaman said Zilkha plans to hire between 50 and 60 jobs in the beginning, and upwards of 100 jobs in Selma’s trucking and forestry industries.

“It just kind of has an impact all over,” Vardaman said of the anticipated economic impact Zilkha Biomass will have on Selma and Dallas County.

Vardaman added that in areas where previous pellet companies that located in Selma have failed, Zilkha has the ingredients to succeed.

“Unlike the last company that was here producing pellets, which was a startup company, this is a financially strong company,” he said. “They have a proprietary product.”

All the pellets produced in the 275,000-metric-ton-per-year pellet plant, will be shipped to Europe where the demand for green energy is paramount.

“What we’re doing is creating renewable fuel for renewable power today in Europe and hopefully someday we’ll sell our products to the U.S. as well,” Dickerman said.

Construction on the plant renovation is underway, and the plant is set to begin operations in 2014.

“It’s been a long process,” Vardaman said, “but it’s finally all coming together.”

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