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Feature Story - March 2007

Unique fuel source

Alabama brick facility taps into landfill

By June Mathews

When the owners of Montgomery, Ala.-based Jenkins Brick began looking for a site for their third production facility, they needed a location that would be large enough to accommodate multiple structures and a storage yard.

It had to have convenient transportation options. It had to be in an area where the plant could become a part of the community.

And it had to be near a landfill.

The company's proposed Jordan Plant would heavily depend upon landfill-produced methane gas for operating a huge brick oven, or kiln, so ready access to a landfill would be important.

"We've been using methane gas in our plants for almost 10 years now," says Mike Jenkins V, the company's production manager and fifth-generation brickmaker. "A friend of my father's at Cherokee Brick in Macon, Ga., developed the process and it's becoming more popular in the industry. It's a good energy source for us."

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A site in the St. Clair County Industrial Park near the town of Moody, Ala., was chosen for the new manufacturing facility. Located just off Interstate 20 near Birmingham, the site puts the plant in a strategic position for serving both the Birmingham and Huntsville construction markets.

Highway and rail transportation is nearby, the general business climate is good and the Star Ridge landfill is only 6 mi. away.

Rachel Harvey, project manager with general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie of Birmingham, says work began on the Jordan Plant in September 2005 with a short timeline.

"Jenkins wanted to be producing brick in 2006," she said.

The $25 million project included a 177,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility, 36,795-sq-ft raw material grinding facility, 3,800-sq-ft office, 5,200-sq-ft associates' locker and break facility, 36,000 sq yds of paved storage, van dock, rail dock and a rail spur.

In addition to the sheer amount of work to be done, coordinating the project was tricky because equipment was being shipped from across the globe. Jenkins Brick selected Lingl, a German company, to provide and install the brickmaking equipment. Other designers and suppliers were in Sweden, Washington, Ohio and North Carolina.

"Design coordination was done mostly over the phone and through e-mail," Harvey says. "We would receive equipment drawings in AutoCAD, print them out and review them for the owners' needs and then forward them to the structural, >> electrical and mechanical engineers for coordination with the facility design."

The site was about 160 acres on the side of a hill, and even though much of the land would be preserved for mining raw material clay and shale for making bricks, more than 400,000 cu yds of dirt had to be moved.

"Before this work could begin, permission had to be granted by the Corps of Engineers, the Alabama Historical Society and the Wildlife and Fisheries Department due to wetlands concerns and the use of state grant monies," Harvey says. "That slowed us down a bit."

Jenkins agrees that dealing with all the red tape was a headache.

"The permitting issues were definitely a hurdle," he says. "There were all kinds of little things that had to be dealt with. None of those things were show-stoppers, but they felt like it at the time."

Once all the approvals were received, 3,330 ft of stormwater piping was installed and in mid-November 2005 foundation work began.

"Overall, 15,500 cu yds of concrete were poured and 36,000 sq yds of roller-compacted concrete was placed in less than 12 months," Harvey says.

Roller-compacted concrete was used in the storage yard instead of traditional concrete or asphalt because the drier mix allowed the concrete to be placed without forms and quickly compacted with a heavy roller. Harvey says the process produced a durable product that was usable in one or two days.

"Besides, asphalt gets soft in our hot Alabama summers," she adds.

Probably the most unique aspect of the entire project was constructing the 6-mi. pipeline through which methane gas would be delivered from the landfill to the plant.

"We did a directional bore under the interstate, and it's not often they'll let you do that," Harvey says.

"The pipeline itself cost $3 million and the compressor needed to collect and transport the gas was another $1 million," she adds. "We had a good contractor on that and that was our saving grace."

The use of landfill gases is projected to initially satisfy about 40 percent of the plant's energy needs, with 100 percent projected in 10 years' time. This method will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and as a result the company is being nationally recognized for being environmentally conscious.

Although finishing work continues on Jenkins Brick's Jordan Plant, the official opening ceremony took place in October.

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