Battery Anode Materials plant planned for Manchac
By AMY BRENNAN
The Port of Manchac is welcoming to its pristine waters a component involved in the manufacture of batteries.
The Times learned of the port’s plans by attending a meeting of the South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission that was rescheduled from noon Tuesday, November 14 to, to noon Tuesday November 28 and then rescheduled again to noon Friday, November 17, and then a “special meeting” was called for 10 a.m. Monday, December 4.
The only member of the press in attendance at that December 4 meeting was a lone Times reporter, who was discouraged by a port staffer from remaining at the port’s office, 163 West Hickory Street in Ponchatoula, supposedly because a lack of a quorum of port officials made a meeting unlikely.
The Times reporter remained at the office, after hearing voices emanating from behind the closed door of the meeting room.
Inside the meeting room, the Times reporter found Executive Director and CEO Pat Dufresne, Port President Donald J. Boihem, V.P. Daryl Ferrara, and Treasurer Cheryl Brumfield.
The Times reporter anticipated more talk of a recently running port theme, introducing a paddle wheeler to the local lakes to boost tourism. But it soon became evident the port now plans to facilitate a plant to make batteries.
Once up and running, the proposed facility will process 41,000 gallons of water a day.
“Port Manchac will be the world’s only site for spherical graphite production outside of China” read one of the pages of information reviewed by port officials and provided by Syrah Resources (the information was not offered to The Times). Another sheet indicates the plant will be designed to produce 20,000 tons of coated spherical graphite, used in the production of lithium batteries, which power electric cars, computers, and other high-tech devices.
“Typically, two to three tons of (natural graphite) is required to produce one ton of spherical graphite,” according to information found on the Syrah Resources web site.
According to an engineer consulted by The Times, spherical graphite is a very fine powder, 60,000 tons of which is used to produce 20,000 tons of coated spherical graphite. How the fine powder will be kept separated from local waterways and the air was not discussed at the meeting.
Material left over from the process, according to the Syrah Resources web site, will be fashioned into “graphite briquettes” and sold for the manufacture of steel.
The Times is seeking further information on the company’s plans, and those of the port.
Manchac hosts a robust community of crabbers, fishermen, and family camp owners.
Initial public reaction to our reporting included this comment by a young mother:
“My children and I have fond memories of visiting friends and families at camps on both the South Pass and North Pass of Manchac. I can’t tell you how many gorgeous photos I have on my walls of Manchac sunsets with my family and beloved friends enjoying the beautiful environment, fishing, swimming and just taking life slow. Not to mention cookouts, holiday celebrations, fish fry’s, and boils. And of course a great meal and buying fresh seafood at all of the local haunts.
Motorists on I-55 now have a better view of South Tangipahoa Port at Manchac due to trees being cut and removed and vegetation being removed and burned for “beautification.”
Gary Lagrange, the former CEO of Port of Orleans, now champions Port of Manchac as a paid consultant and he was recently moved to quote the famous movie Field of Dreams, saying: “Build it and they will come.”
At the September 12, 2017 meeting, it was Lagrange who advised the commission he was excited to bring tourism to Tangipahoa and create jobs through the cruise line industry, and even the possibility of bringing in a paddle wheeler to create a real “Cajun” experience for tourists.
Syrah expresses confidence that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will grant permission for water discharge into North Pass. The company will be “self monitoring,” according to a chemical company official who attended the meeting but left before the reporter could question her.
Syrah claims its battery anode material (BAM) plant will be both an industry landmark and an important source of jobs. Phase One of this project promises 11 jobs and Phase Two will create an additional 16 jobs, with the plant running 24 hours a day to eliminate the need to hire security, “unless items on site go missing,” said a Syrah company official in the meeting.