Panel urges Opportunity Fund money for Port of Port Angeles composites recycling center

By James Casey, April 23, 2015, Peninsula Daily News

A proposed composites recycling center in Port Angeles will move $1 million closer to construction if a Clallam County advisory panel gets its way.


The Opportunity Fund Advisory Board voted 4-1 Thursday to recommend that county commissioners advance that amount to finish a 25,000-square-foot shell building at William R. Fairchild International Airport.


When commissioners will consider the decision is uncertain.


Advisory board members Mike McAleer, Dan Leinan, Joe Murray, Bill Hermann and Alan Barnard, chairman, voted to allocate the money, about half the balance of a fund the state Department of Commerce has returned to Clallam County from state sales taxes.


Board member Sharon DelaBarre was absent because of a medical emergency but sent a letter casting the sole vote against the project.


The building at 2220 W. 18th St. eventually would house Peninsula College composites classrooms and laboratories, carbon-fiber composite-recycling machines and startup space for manufacturers using the lightweight, high-strength product.


The Port of Port Angeles would develop the center through a state-chartered nonprofit corporation.


If the port receives the Opportunity Fund money and another $2 million from a federal grant, construction could start in July, with operations opening in January.


The center initially would employ six people, with 111 working there within five years at annual incomes ranging from $35,000 to $72,000, its backers told the advisory board.


Here’s how it would work, according to Jennifer States, the port’s director of business development, and Geoff Wood, its Bremerton-based composites consultant:


Composites consist of carbon fibers imbedded in resins. They typically are produced in sheets before they are stamped or molded into components like bicycle frames or snowboards.


Most manufacturers currently send their scraps to landfills, States said.


Companies that include aerospace firms in the Puget Sound region instead would spool their trimmed material like ribbon and store it in refrigerated semi-trailers parked at their factories.


The cold temperatures would keep the composites from hardening.


The port would ship the trimmings to Port Angeles — initially about six truckloads a month — where it would be wound onto mandrels for reforming or be chopped or ground into pieces suitable for making new sheets of material and eventually manufactured items for the cycling, water sports or agriculture markets.


Including the cost of refrigerated shipping, the port could acquire composite material — worth $44 a pound in its raw form — for $10 a pound, Wood said, and turn the savings into family-wage paychecks.


Eventually, the center could accept “end-of-life” composite objects such as old airplane components, raising the possibility that the port could handle such large shipments by developing a barge terminal on Port Angeles Harbor.


Together with a state grant of $712,000, the Opportunity Fund allocation would reduce the port’s budgeted contribution to the center from $1.3 million to $300,000, with the savings going to develop manufacturing at the center, according to States.


As much as $30 million more could come from companies the port has promised not to identify under nondisclosure agreements, States said.


The proposal wasn’t without its critics.


In a letter supporting her “no” vote, DelaBarre said the composites would be “dangerous” materials.


Wood said the materials wouldn’t pose flammability hazards or produce dangerous fumes.


DelaBarre also questioned whether the materials could be transported easily to Port Angeles and whether a skilled workforce could be recruited in Clallam County.


States answered that trucks traveling existing roads would be adequate to supply the center and said Peninsula College could fill the demand for skilled workers with its advanced composites materials classes.


Mike Rauch, president of Advanced Composites Technology Inc., said in a letter that Barnard read to the board that if composites could be recycled, major manufacturers would have devised a way to do it.


Wood, however, said most manufacturers are interested in their finished products, not in recovering scrap.


“It is no longer usable to them in the size and the format to go back into the manufacturing stream,” he said.


“It’s cheaper for them to put it into a dumpster than to reuse it.”


Sequim resident Bob Lynette said he worries whenever academic institutions partnered with governmental agencies on projects like the recycling center because, he said, they seldom do adequate research.


“Why hasn’t Boeing and these other companies said, ‘Yeah, we’ll put in hard cash to get this going’?” he asked.


But Norm Nelson, the Peninsula College instructor who teaches composites classes in the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center near where the advisory board met in the Lincoln Center, 905 W. Ninth St., said aerospace manufacturers already offload their scrap aluminum and titanium rather than recycle it.


And Port Angeles City Councilman Brad Collins urged the advisory board to endorse the project.


“This is the next logical kind of thing that needs to start happening,” he said, “not just talking about where we’re going.”


Murray agreed.


“I see a lot of risks and I see a lot of potential value. I think this is Day 1 of basically a new industry,” he said.


“It’s important that we all take risks. If we don’t take risks, we will not see a change in our economic base.”


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