The Austrian company was issued a final greenhouse gas Prevention of Significant Deterioration construction permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in June, which was a major step in the construction process, Voestalpine Head of Communications Matt Pastl said.
“Getting a greenhouse permit in Texas is not easy,” Pastl said. “It’s a lengthy process.”
Staff at Voestalpine have moved their corporate offices from Corpus Christi to Portland, and construction crews have cleared the area where the 110-foot facility will be constructed. They are currently in the process of drilling 66-foot holes in which piles that will support the facility’s foundation will be installed. About 250 piles will be used to support the facility’s core area.
Voestalpine’s Portland facility will produce two million tons of hot briquetted iron per year.
“Half will be sent back to Austria, and the other half will be sold to steel producers in North and South America,” Pastl said.
The plant will feature an enclosed storage facility for the iron ore pellets used to make the product, which will be shipped to the facility from Brazil, Canada and the Great Lakes region.
“By having the storage facility, we can make sure we have zero dust emissions from the pellets,” Pastl said.
The enclosed storage facility is not required by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but Pastl said the feature represents Voestalpine’s forward thinking ideas.
“The facility meets future air standards,” he said. “It’s not common practice in the steel industry, but one of the company’s slogans is, ‘one step ahead.’”
Two primary motivators for Voestalpine to construct the plant include the company’s ability to purchase natural gas at cheaper rates than are available in Europe, and the site’s proximity to the Gulf, Pastl said.
“We lack (affordable) natural gas in Austria,” he said. “We get it from Russia, and those prices are about (twice) the price they are in America. We need access to deep sea, and we need the workforce and political and legal stabilization.”
The plant will use bay water to cool its heating systems, rather than potable water, which will cut down on the amount of water Voestalpine will have to purchase from San Patricio County. The salt will not need to be separated from the bay water in order for it to be used on the systems.
Construction has begun on Voestalpine’s dock, which will be 1,030 feet long. The company will utilize three ships.
“The dock will be finished by April of next year,” Pastl said. “We’ve scheduled our first batch of briquettes to be produced Dec. 16, 2015, at 11:30 a.m.”
Voestalpine utilizes drones to monitor progress at the site. There are currently around 200 construction workers there, and Pastl said there will be up to 1,400 there when the construction process hits its peak.