Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Pining for Change

Pine trees, once a source for polluting paper mills, fuel clean energy.

The pine tree has long been a staple of northwest Florida’s paper mill industry, which for many years has been among the region’s major air and water polluters.

But wood pellet manufacturer Enviva, based in the tiny Jackson County town of Cottondale, is now using pine trees to create a source of clean and efficient power.

Enviva’s plant produces nearly 800,000 tons of wood pellets that are shipped to Europe and burned at electric power generating plants.

Run by co-founder and CEO John Keppler, the Maryland-based company is the world’s largest producer of wood pellets.

Global demand for the product is growing, says Mark Haser, plant manager. “We can sell all we can make,” he says.

What makes the Cottondale pellet one of the most in-demand sources for power generation in Europe is its high pine content, which gives it a higher heat value.

“This allows generators in Europe and the United Kingdom to run newer, more efficient and cleaner power generators,” says Haser.

The wood pellets are largely a substitute for coal, which has a higher heat value per weight, but also emits more pollutants when burned.

By using Enviva’s wood pellets, European plants can reduce their carbon footprints by 80% over the lifetime of their power generators, says Keppler. Enviva’s Cottondale operation also is a model of clean manufacturing, says Haser. “We virtually have zero pollution,” he says. “We buy our electric power that is generated at the nearby Campbellton landfill site. And we use the bark from pine trees in our furnace to dry the wood chips.”

The plant, which employs 95 people, emits only water vapor and even sells the ash from the burned bark to local farmers for fertilizer.

Business Briefs

CRESTVIEW — L3 Crestview Aerospace, an aeronautical manufacturer that employs some 500 people at its facilities in north Okaloosa County, is searching for a buyer, says company spokesman Lance Martin. The Crestview plant manufactures parts and performs maintenance on commercial and military aircraft.

DESTIN — The Destin City Council has approved issuing proposals to solicit a buyer for its electric utility system. Before a sale can be executed, the city would have to buy the system from Gulf Power, says City Attorney Jeff Burns. The city entered into a 30-year franchise agreement with Gulf Power in May 1986. After several extensions, that contract will expire in May 2018.

PENSACOLA — The long-vacant Pensacola Technology Campus, a nine-acre property near the downtown core, is attracting the interest of the University of West Florida. UWF has submitted an application to Triumph Gulf Coast for $27.5 million to build a 70,000-sq.- ft. facility that would house the Cybersecurity Innovation Center and the Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory. Triumph is the non-profit foundation the state set up to award $1.5 billion of BP funds to the eight coastal Panhandle counties most affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Bill Hafner, president of Mobile-based VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering, says he has set a goal of hiring 12 recent grads from Escambia County School District’s new aviation maintenance technical school. VT Mobile is expected to begin aircraft maintenance operations this spring at its new hangar facility at Pensacola International Airport.

TALLAHASSEE — The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s board has asked city commissioners to consider creating an independent authority to manage Tallahassee International Airport.

  • City officials say 2,000- plus residential and business customers have subscribed to its new $33.2-million, 20-megawatt solar farm. The 120-acre farm, still under construction on the land adjacent the Tallahassee International Airport, is expected to go on line early this year.
  • Zagster, a national bike-sharing company, plans to bring 250 bikes and 50 holding stations to the capital city early this year. Tallahassee’s population density and lack of an existing bike-sharing program, says company spokesman Jon Terbush, make it a viable candidate for the installation. Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., Zagster has more than 200 bikesharing locations in 35 states.


  • Susan Cornejo is the new COO for Sacred Heart Health System in Pensacola. Cornejo has served as CFO at Sacred Heart for the past four years. Prior to joining Sacred Heart, she was with St. Vincent’s Health System in Alabama.
  • Ken Ford, co-founder and CEO of the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, has been inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame.

Innovation: Power of Knowledge

Pensacola-based startup Invictus Knowledge Institute is a non-profit offering information technology training and job opportunities to economically disadvantaged people in the region.

Founded in 2017 by CEO Vickie Patterson, Invictus offers a variety of courses that begin with a four-month instruction in business technology fundamentals.

“To help our students with internships and/or job placement, we base our curriculum decisions on direct input from employers,” Patterson says. “We provide 100% of our students with direct access to our internship/job networks.”

So far, Invictus has arranged internships with VetCV, a local software company, Pensacola-based military contractor CSRA and Maryland-based RedLine Performance Solutions.

The program has several pricing levels and provides scholarships.

Invictus recently won a $5,000 competitive award from Innovation Coast, a non-profit consortium of northwest Florida businesses promoting entrepreneurial startups, and AppRiver, a Gulf Breeze-based cybersecurity firm.


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