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Fuel Pellet Venture Born from Dying Forests: Bliss Industries Pellet Mills Produce Super-Premium Grade Product for Colorado Plant

Rocky Mountain Pellet Company – Bliss Industries Equips Wood Fuel Pellet Venture

By April Terreri
Date Posted: 8/1/2009

WALDEN, Colorado – Sometimes it pays to stop everything and take a good look around you. That’s what John Frink did during getaways at his cabin on Grand Lake near Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountain retreats offered him some time away from his hectic automotive and steel recycling businesses, where he worked for about 25 years.

            “About five years ago I began noticing the pole pine trees in the mountains were all dying,” recalled John. “The devastation was severe throughout the mountains in Colorado, where there are now over 2 million acres of dead pole pine trees.” The decimation by the tiny mountain pine beetle extends into Canada, too.

            As he studied the landscape and all of the dead and dying trees, John began to compare the abundant source of trees to his steel recycling business, where he always had to compete for raw material.

            “I considered these dead trees as a source for some kind of enterprise, and I began thinking about what I might be able to do with all of this wood,” said John. “I thought about starting a sawmill to build fence posts. Then I thought about manufacturing wood fuel pellets because I had owned a pellet stove in one of my houses, and it provided a great source for supplemental heat.”

            That was the beginning of a new journey and a new career path for John. Providentially, at about the same time he had an opportunity to sell his steel recycling business, which freed him to consider a new business venture. He and a friend, Joe Kostelac, began to research where to locate a mill to make wood fuel pellets.

            “Joe moved into my cabin in Grand Lake, which is located in Jackson County,” John said. “He began to explore the Jackson County area, and then he met with one of the county commissioners to discuss the possibility of locating our business there.”

            John found two other investors to help start Rocky Mountain Pellet Company. He and Joe began operating the new business in Walden in October of 2007. The company has a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing plant that sits on 110 acres. It is equipped with four Bliss Industries pellet mills along with other Bliss machinery.

            There are three grades of wood fuel pellets, according to John — industrial, premium, and super-premium. Rocky Mountain Pellet produces only super-premium grade pellets.

            Rocky Mountain Pellet Co. sells primarily to distributors as well as to home improvement centers and hardware centers like Ace Hardware. Its biggest customer is Universal Forest Products, which has about 90 locations nationwide. Rocky Mountain Pellet Co. sells to customers in the U.S. and Canada.

            Rocky Mountain Pellet Co. is located in an area with a strong logging industry; John wanted to leverage that advantage. “We are unusual in this business in that we start with whole tree logs that loggers bring to our facility and stack for us,” he said. John prefers having at least a three to six month supply of logs.

            The manufacturing process begins when a Caterpillar 966H wheeled grapple loader moves the logs to one of two Morbark whole tree chippers, a model 2755 and 2348; the chippers have a chain flail to debark the logs prior to chipping. The chipping operations are done outdoors on the log yard.

            The chips move on a conveyor to a Laidig custom-built bulk storage pit about 50 feet in diameter. The chips are stored until the automated system activates an augur that rotates around the pit. A hole in the middle of the Laidig pit allows the tumbled material to fall down onto another conveyor system.

            “All our computerized controls are made by Allen Bradley,” said John, 52. “We have several quality assurance personnel in the control room who can control the speed of the Laidig and the speed of the conveyor.” The company employs 12 quality assurance personnel that monitor operations throughout the facility.

            The chips move to another augur system before going into a drum dryer that reduces moisture content to about 11%. The dry chips travel into a surge bin before entering a Bliss Industries ED4460-TFA Eliminator hammer mill.

            “This mill has swinging hammers that beat the product down further to a smaller consistency resembling a chewed-up toothpick,” John noted.

            A Kice Industries pneumatic conveying system blows the material through cylindrical tubes into another bin system measuring about 12 feet square. From the bins, the material passes into another Bliss augur system from which it is fed into one of four Bliss pellet mills.

            Inside the mill are three rollers and a die containing hundreds of pellet molds. The finely ground wood material is subjected to just the right level of compression so the lignin in the wood keeps the material intact as it is compressed and extruded through the die. “We can manufacture about four tons of pellets an hour in each of our four pellet mills,” said John.

            The Kice pneumatic conveying system blows the finished pellets into one of two Bliss custom-built cylindrical cooling systems and holding bins that are about 14 feet in diameter. Each cooling system receives product from two of the pellet mills.

            “Each of the bins can take about five tons of product, which constantly feeds into these bins,” explained John. From this point, the air system moves the finished pellets into a 50-foot-tall storage silo. When pellets are ready to be packaged, they move from the silo into a Kice aspirating system to remove fines (smaller pieces) before being bagged.

            A Hamer Packaging System Bale-a-Matic bagging system measures pellets by weight, pours them into a 50-pound bag and seals the package. A PSI automated palletizer stacks 40 of the 50-pound bags onto a pallet for temporary storage and eventual shipping, and each unit load is covered with a plastic wrapper to protect it from sun and moisture.

            The Bliss pellet mill is designed for reliability, maximum efficiency, and operational ease, noted John. A wide range of die sizes, die speeds and drive power are available.

            Bliss designed its feeding system for the pellet mill so that the pelleting chamber produces even striation throughout the body of the pellet. This accomplishes two things: it allows for uniform wear within the pelleting chamber and produces a high-quality finished product. The chamber door can hinge to the right or left, as needs require. The mill integrates safety switches and other safeguards that protect the operator from opening the door while the machine is operating.

            The decision to purchase pellet mills from Bliss Industries was an easy one, noted John. “Since we are all about quality, we went with Bliss Industries because they have the best name in the industry. Their customer service is excellent, and their staff is very easy and helpful to work with.”

            Bill Bliss shared his expertise in the pellet industry with John. “Bill has been in the business for about 30 years, and he is very knowledgeable,” said John. “He has a ‘wall of fame’ down there where he shows you how to build pellets from just about anything you can think of. He even had pellets he made from Wrigley’s spearmint gum wrappers. Bill is very innovative.”

            John wanted to ensure that the Bliss equipment could produce the product he wanted. “We took several big bins of our wood chips down there to see the kind of pellets the mills could manufacture,” he reported. “We also wanted to meet with the people we would be dealing with. Bill was awesome. He wasn’t set up with a dryer, so we all built what he called a redneck dryer out of an old kerosene heater with a hose connected into a cooler. Thing is, it worked.” John discovered the Bliss pellet mills were as good as he expected.

            “John wanted to build a highly productive, economical and dependable wood pellet facility,” said Greg Alles, president of Bliss Industries. “That is why he selected the Bliss B200B-120 Pioneer Pellet Mill with 400 connected horsepower per machine.”

            Each mill has two 200 hp motors, he explained. The two main drive motors are designed to start and run the machine with no side pull on the main shaft bearings. This provides long life and economical operating cost.

            The B200B-120 Pioneer Pellet Mill has slow die speed, a large diameter die, large roll shell diameter, large main shaft bearings and a uniform feeding system for optimum operational cost per ton, he added.

            Finally, the Bliss Pioneer mill requires only weekly adjustment to maintain capacity and quality. “This can result in up to an additional 1,000 hours of production time because of better up-time,” said Greg.

            Rocky Mountain Pellet Co. has been producing pellets for about a year. John has found the business is quite different than his metal recycling business.

            “It’s a lot of seasonal work right now,” he said, “and we want to be able to work throughout the full year. So we are looking at other uses for our product, like horse bedding, cat litter or industrial clean-up. We want to identify other uses for our product so we can find new markets.”

            On the whole, however, the pellet manufacturing is easier, according to John. “In my last career, there were a lot more moving parts because I had to buy the products and bring them in. On the automotive side, I had to drain all the fluids and clean the cars before we even did anything with them. We were constantly watching steel prices, too. In this industry, we are just building one product, so it seems a bit easier, but this business also has some challenges. For instance, sales are a lot tougher because they involve larger amounts of money. For example, if we sell 1,000 tons, that means we are looking at a sale of $170,000.”

            The research and decision-making process involved a lot of soul-searching, too. “I was really nervous coming into this industry,” said John, “because it was all new to me, and to get the company started required a huge investment for all the equipment. Whenever you do something this different and this big, you want to make sure you dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s.”

            Finding the right investors to help finance the business was a challenge as well. “We have a great ownership group now with my business partner, Joe, and our two other investors,” John said.

            Although the company is still quite new to the industry, John believes he and Joe are doing all the right things to keep producing and marketing a superior product. “We are building what we believe is one of the best wood pellet products in the country right now. Two things we recognized coming into this business is the industry needed products with quality and consistency.”

            The company added an innovative touch to its bagged pellets; the bag features a handle to make it easier for people to pour pellets into the hopper of their pellet stove. Rocky Mountain Pellet also offers a clear bag so consumers can see the quality of the pellets they are buying.

            Rocky Mountain Pellet Co. employs 42 people from the town of Walden, which only has a population of about 500. Safety is a major concern at the company; the plant manager spends about 40% of his time outlining safety procedures for employees.

            Even though the company is only about one year old, it does not have to rely on advertising to propel the business. “We get a lot of our business through word-of-mouth and through orders we receive at various trade shows,” said John.

            John makes the three hour trip to Walden from his home in Parker every week; he stays in Walden during the week and returns home on weekends. He has a wife, two daughters and a son. He likes to spend time with his family, relaxing at his cabin in Grand Lake, where the family enjoys snowmobiling.

            Ask John what distinguishes his company from others in the industry, and his answer can be summarized in one word: quality.

            “There is quality in everything we do – in the way we manufacture our product and the way we interact with our customers. We hire good, quality people who help us produce premium-quality products.”

Bliss Industries a Leader in Processing Equipment

            Oklahoma-based Bliss Industries is a leading manufacturer of processing equipment for the agricultural, food, chemical, wood and fiber industries. It has 28 years of experience, specializing in machinery and equipment for particle reduction, pelleting and cooling.

            Bliss Industries is quickly becoming a valuable partner to wood fuel pellet producers. The company has installed its Pioneer pellet mills in more than 20 new wood fuel pellet production facilities in the past five years.

            Bliss Industries manufactures hammermills, pellet mills, pellet coolers, crumblers, and other products for the wood, grain, pet food, oil seed and flour milling industries. The company maintains a reputation for manufacturing innovative, efficient, reliable and well built industrial equipment.

            Bliss Industries products include: Eliminator hammermills, Pioneer pellet mills, Op-Flo coolers, crumblers, conditioning cylinders, rotary feeders and magnet adapters.

            Pioneer pellet mills, used in the forest products industry to produce wood fuel pellets, are designed to deliver a high level of reliability, efficiency, and ease of operation for an overall lower operating cost.

            Bliss designs its pellet mills for long-term performance and maximum up-time. They feature a superior roll design that requires fewer routine adjustments, which means more up-time and annual production.

            Pioneer pellet mills also can produce wood fuel pellets from raw material with higher incoming moisture content. When processing green wood, less energy is needed to dry the raw material. This factor alone reduces overall production costs of pellets.

            Pioneer pellet mills are designed with operators in mind. For instance, an integral hoist offers easy handling of dies, rolls, the front plate and die stiffening ring. Operators are protected from opening the door while the machine is in operation through integrated safety switches. A manually or automatically controlled air cylinder on the bypass chute prevents die blockages as well as overloads on the main drive.

            For more information, call (580) 765-7787, e-mail or visit the Web site at


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