Bennu Revives Washington Bottle Plant

Wine bottle factory destroyed by fire resumes production under new ownership

by Peter Mitham
bennu glass wine bottles
The first glass is produced at Bennu Glass LLC in Port of Kalama, Wash.
Port of Kalama, Wash.—On July 17, trial bottles began rolling off the lines of a new wine bottle manufacturing plant, with commercial production set to begin this week.

“It’s generated a lot of excitement,” said Jerry Lemieux, CEO of Bennu Glass LLC, who said calls have been pouring in from across the Pacific Northwest and even as far away as the Northeast. “We’re getting calls from people in Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania,” he said.

The 175,000-square-foot plant in Kalama, Wash., a town just north of Portland, Ore., near the mouth of the Columbia River, was built in 2008 by Cameron Family Glass Packaging LLC. It was heralded at the time as one of a growing cluster of companies from cork plants to distribution facilities piggybacking on the phenomenal growth of the Northwest wine industry. (See “Ground Broken for Wine Bottle Plant.”)

But when a “catastrophic furnace failure” clogged the plant’s hydroelectric-powered furnace with molten glass in January 2009, the venture stalled. Cameron Family Glass filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in late 2009, and Bennu purchased most of its assets through a court-ordered sale in early 2010 and set about reviving the plant.

New oxygen-fired furnace
The first order of business was removing the old furnace and glass morass, then replacing it with an oxygen-fired furnace. “It is standard technology and qualifies as best-available technology for glass furnaces in terms of environmental capabilities,” Lemieux said.

While the Cameron plant touted its use of hydroelectric power as reducing carbon emissions from the plant to zero, Lemieux said Bennu has installed a system that makes significant strides in the same direction.

On the one hand, it uses liquid oxygen, which is 99.5% pure, and has installed a Leuhr filtration system that significantly reduces harmful emissions including nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“By using oxygen in the combustion along with the natural gas as opposed to ambient air, we eliminate almost all of the nitrogen…that, when burned, produces nitrous oxides,” Lemieux explained.

Any emissions from the combustion process (which relies 75% on natural gas and 25% on hydro power) are cooled down with water and treated with trona, a raw source of sodium carbonate that reacts with the gas as it passes through the filtration system to precipitate out sulfur oxides.

The end products are effectively oxygen and a fine particulate matter that is thrown in with batch material as it enters the melter to serve as a fining material. Bennu estimates that for every 250 tons of batch material, no more than a half-ton of particulate is produced.

“It’s a pretty efficient process,” Lemieux told Wines & Vines. “If this is not the most environmentally friendly glass furnace in the United States, I have no idea where it is.”

5% of West Coast bottles
What wineries do know is that Bennu’s plant is in the U.S. With an annual production of 144 million bottles, Bennu Glass will be able to supply 5% of the bottles that West Coast wineries need. Bennu recently signed distribution agreements with Vintners Global Resource LLC of Renton, Wash., and All American Containers Inc. of Florida. Two other distributors are expected to sign on in the near future.

“People that we’ve talked to continue to tell us that having a reliable, low-cost, high-quality producer in the United States is something that’s good for them, good for their brands, and we have people very anxious to get started,” Lemieux said.

Andy Brassington, CEO and co-founder of Vintners Global Resource, welcomes the plant as an important addition to local manufacturing capacity. Customers are expressing interest, though bottles have yet to roll off the manufacturing line.

“It provides us with a domestic-produced, factory-direct glass supply program,” Brassington said of the plant. “It’s a very good thing for the industry: It’s positioned geographically in the right place, and it’s state-of-the-art.”

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