WIGGINS, MS (WLOX) - With a push of a button, the director of the Mississippi Development Authority started the bagging machine. Gray Swoope and hundreds of invited guests gathered Tuesday to celebrate the first official day of production at Piney Woods Pellets in Wiggins.
"This is Mississippi's future," said Swoope.
The vision for the 12,000 square foot plant began just days after Katrina, when Osmond Crosby saw for himself how the storm devastated the timber industry in Stone County.
"We made the decision to create a project that would be involved in post-hurricane recovery," said Crosby. "We've been land owners down here in Mississippi and timber producers a long, long time."
The Crosby family invested more than $10.5 million in the facility on old Highway 49 and hired 27 employees. The plant uses wood by-products, like sawdust, pulp plant peelings, and pine trees. The raw materials are broken up into small pieces, then go through several processes before they turn into tiny pellets.
"About 20 percent of our initial year's production will be used for stall bedding. The other 80 percent go into the bags, and those are fuel pellets. Those fuel pellets are burned in pellet stoves," Crosby said.
Crosby said the pellet stoves produce plenty of heat, are energy-efficient, and they don't emit smoke.
"You have a pellet stove going and you think you have natural gas burning. So all you have is hot air coming out," said Crosby.
"As far as getting away from dependence on foreign oil, you see for every bag of these wood pellets that's used, 1.72 gallons of foreign oil will not be used if you use this product to heat a home," Swoope said.
The plant can produce more than 50,000 tons of wood pellets every year.
"I feel proud," Crosby said. "I feel like we're at a point of accomplishment and what I'm ready to do now is make pellets, sell pellets, convince people to use pellets."
Crosby said there is technology being developed with heat pumps that would use the wood pellets to cool houses.