A new pellet mill has been built in Mancos.
Mesa Verde Pellets, a subsidiary of Aspen Wood Products, will produce aspen and ponderosa pine pellets for heating and animal bedding, said President and CEO David Sitton.
The $2 million plant is a division of the modern AWP timber mill, which Sitton rebuilt after the Western Excelsior mill burned down in 2017. Full startup is expected to begin soon.
AWP’s main business is milling aspen into shavings called excelsior, which it manufactures into erosion-control products, evaporative cooling pads and packing material for national and international markets.
The new pellet mill captures aspen sawdust from the excelsior mill and recycles it into pellets. Chipped logs also will be used to feed the pellet mill. The aspen and pine are harvested out of the San Juan National Forest.
“I figure we will recycle 90% to 95% of the mill’s wood waste,” Sitton said.
A giant pile of sawdust is positioned to feed the new pellet mill. A new chipper will be purchased to process logs from the mill’s inventory, and from timber harvested from the forest. A drying unit will also be added so green timber can be used.
In addition, sawdust from Sitton’s Dolores mill, Aspen Wall Wood, will be shipped to the Mancos location to be processed into pellets.
The new pellet mill includes three units manufactured by Colorado Mill Equipment of Cañon City. Each mill is powered by a 200 horsepower electric motor and is capable of producing two tons of pellets per hour. They are bagged into 40-pound sacks.
Sitton said he estimates initial production will be 15,000 tons of pellets per year. He said to start, the new pellet mill will hire five employees.
Distribution and pricing of the product will be market-driven.
“The hope is to have it available in all the hardware stores, including locally,” he said. “Demand for pellet stoves is strong. I started getting calls for pellets right after the word got out.”
The Journal took a tour of the new pellet mill plant Feb. 1. Sawdust from the larger mill facility is collected and enters a grinder to form it into the correct size.
It is fed into the pellet mill, water is added, and the pulp is compressed then pushed through a dye that forms the pellets. An internal blade cuts the pellets to size, and they travel down a conveyor into a cooling tower. Then they are delivered to the bagging station.
The pellets are natural and contain no additives or chemicals, Sitton said. The mill will have a lab to test for quality controls such as moisture content, BTUs, and ash content. The pellets will also go through industry testing and certification standards.
“We’re excited. It will take a little time to learn how to make pellets,” Sitton said. “It’s been pretty fun, we’re doing some cool stuff. The crews are doing all the work.”
Sitton said it is possible the pellet mill could process sawdust or chips from other mills, but the material would need to meet certain standards.
He said the mill waste piles from Ironwood mill south of Dolores would not be usable for the new Mancos pellet mill because he said it is not certain what is all in the piles, and because the piles contain bark which is not very compatible for pellet mills.
Controlling and recycling the milling waste in a closed loop is a priority for the Mancos mill and necessary for preserving air quality, Sitton said.
Sawdust discharged outdoors from the previous Western Excelsior was an irritant to neighbors and the town of Mancos.
Sitton recently added 53,500 square feet to the AWP factory. Inside are neat rows of erosion-control products and evaporative cooling pad stacked on pallets, ready to be shipped out.
Nearby workers operate a massive unit that manufactures the evaporative cooling pads. In an adjacent warehouse, workers turn aspen trees into excelsior.
Outside beside a mountain of stacked logs, a giant log peeler debarks and cuts logs to length. Logging trucks come in, and semitrailers full of product exit.
The Mancos mill has 45 employees, Sitton said, and he needs 15 to 20 more to ramp up production. Training is provided.
“I would hire them today. If we could get more employees, we would add more shifts to keep up with demand,” he said.
The infrastructure and product expansion have created visible momentum for the business.
“It’s been quite the endeavor, we’ve been in constant construction,” Sitton said. “It took all of us to join together and take on the challenges. We started with excelsior, and thought we would mostly be doing that, now it is just a piece of what we do.”