It came by barge.
At more than 200 feet tall, the massive contraption had to be moved by four trailers — two one end and two at the other — with a combined total of 320 wheels.
Two industrial cranes helped set the converter into place, working for about 12 hours, starting at 8 a.m., Thursday.
“It is phenomenal,” Joe Higgins, CEO of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link said of the piece of equipment. He drove by the site earlier this week and got a look at the work. The piece actually was set six days ahead of schedule.
The piece, one of 160 individual pieces that will be set to create the Kior biofuels plant, cost about $5 million and was purchased from HSI in Tulsa, Okla. It took another $1 million to set the piece in place.
When it”s all said and done, Kior will have spent more than $200 million to bring its first commercial plant to Columbus.
Taking up about 22 acres at the port, Kior will turn wood chips into fuel.
The piece set Thursday is part of a catalyst recirculation system, “very similar to what you would find at a refinery,” said Ed Smith, vice president of engineering and construction for Kior.
In explaining how wood chips become fuel, Smith said the wood fibers are broken down or “cracked” into smaller fragments. Then, they are cooled and condensed into a liquid.
“It”s what we call our crude oil,” he explained.
From there, it can be further processed into fuel for various uses.
William Coates, chief operating officer for Kior, said the question he often gets asked is, ”Why Columbus, Miss.?”
Along with an economic development team, city and county working together to make the process as seamless as possible, Coates said locating at the port had various advantages and few challenges: “If you don”t have access to water,” for instance, “pieces like what is being set today, you would have to build those on site.”
Kior plans to use Southern yellow pine from Weyerhaeuser”s timber supply sites.
“All of the wood we use will be from managed forests,” said Coates. He also noted Kior would use as much wood “as a normal paper mill.”
Kior has entered into agreements with the Hunt Refining Co., FedEx and Catchlight Energy, a joint venture between Weyerhaeuser and Chevron, to use oil produced at the plant.
Kior expects to begin turning out oil at its Columbus facility by mid-2012.
Construction will begin almost immediately at its next Mississippi location.
“Our plan is, as soon as we finish construction of this plant, within the next weeks or month, to go ahead and start construction on our other sites,” Coates said.
Kior plans to invest more than $500 million statewide, adding four more plants in Newton, southwest Mississippi and two additional locations yet to be named. The company is expected to create more than 100 direct and indirect jobs locally and more than 500 statewide.
The Mississippi Business Journal reports that former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has agreed to join the Kior board of directors, effective in July.
Rice has served on the board of directors for the Chevron Corp., the Charles Schwab Corp., the Transamerica Corp. and the International Advisory Council of J.P. Morgan. She also serves on the board of Makena Capital.