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Ivey announces SiO2’s $163 million expansion in Auburn

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday that SiO2 Materials Science plans to invest $163 million in an expansion at its Auburn facility.

The announcement came just after securing a major contract to supply the federal government with vials to support the COVID-19 vaccine effort if and when an effective vaccine is developed. The project will create 220 jobs.

“It is exciting to know that SiO2 will be directly involved in providing a product essential to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, which will impact not only Alabamians but the entire country,” Ivey said. “This is a testament to the ingenuity of this great company and its growing Alabama workforce.”

Economic developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Vials produced by SiO2 Materials Science may be the critical component needed to ensure safety in the vaccine distribution process. The breakthrough technology developed by the Auburn-based company provides a glimmer of hope amidst challenging times and showcases how Alabamians are working diligently to craft solutions that will assist our nation and the world in the fight against COVID-19. In addition, the 220 new, high-skilled jobs housed in Auburn Technology Park West will bring economic benefits to Lee County as well as the entire state of Alabama.”

The expansion will allow SiO2 to increase its production capacity so that it can meet the expected demand for vials and syringes when a coronavirus vaccine is finally approved for mass use.

In June, SiO2 announced an $143 million contract with federal government agencies for a production scale-up of the company’s state-of-the-art packaging platform for storing novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) vaccines and therapeutics.

Bobby Abrams is the CEO of SiO2.

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“The pandemic presents an enormous challenge for all people,” Abrams said. “We are extremely grateful for Senator Shelby’s steadfast support and assistance, and we’re honored to collaborate with our government so a COVID-19 vaccine can be safely and quickly distributed. The State of Alabama and the City of Auburn for many years have been very supportive of SiO2 Materials Science during its research, development, commercialization, and now scale-up phases of the company.”

Over the last 10 years, SiO2 has developed its patented vial platform, which combines a plastic container with a microscopic, pure glass coating on the inside that is ideal for biological drugs and vaccines. The product, developed in Auburn with help from experts from four major U.S. research institutions, combines the benefits of both glass and plastic without drawbacks.

“There are problems with plastic, and there are problems with glass, and we resolve all of them,” Abrams said.

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SiO2 will expand its existing facility at 2250 Riley Street and will invest in a new molding facility at 2425 Innovation Drive, both located in the Auburn Technology Park West.

Construction is already under way to expand the facility on Innovation Drive. The completed approximately 70,000-square-foot facility will increase the production capacity of SiO2’s injection molding operation.

“We’re proud to have some of the world’s leading scientists and product developers working in our community,” Auburn Mayor Ron Anders said. “With the presence of these companies and Auburn University’s outstanding medical and engineering programs, we believe we’ll see significant growth in the biotech industry right here in Auburn. On top of that, the well-paying jobs created through this project will result in significant economic opportunities for our local businesses.”

Greg Canfield, the secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said that SiO2’s expansion project in Auburn will help ensure that the nation’s health authorities have an ample supply of vials and syringes to administer a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as it is developed.

“Having a steady supply of SiO2’s innovative vials will represent a key strategic advantage for federal agencies wanting to act rapidly once a vaccine is available to counter the coronavirus,” Canfield said.

Robert S. Langer is a professor at the David H. Koch Institute at MIT and a company adviser.

A key element of SiO2’s product is enhanced safety for healthcare providers and for patients, who are at a lower risk of adverse side effects. A combination of plastic and a microscopic layer of glass also means vials and syringes won’t break, shatter or crack. SiO2 ships its products worldwide.

“Many drug development and drug formulation innovations can be limited due to variables associated with traditional glass vials and syringes,” Langer said. “The SiO2 vials and syringes eliminate these variables and allow drug development partners to bring their innovations to life.”

SiO2 is a privately-owned company based in Auburn, where it has around 200 employees. The Retirement Systems of Alabama provided early financial support for the company.

517,464 people have already died from the COVID-19 global pandemic, including 130,602 Americans.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Economy

New unemployment claims increased last week

More people joined the unemployment rolls last week than the week before.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There were 8,581 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, up from 7,732 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

Of the claims filed between Oct. 4 and Oct. 10, there were 3,125 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s 36 percent, compared to 51 percent the previous week.

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Economy

Governor announces $1.5 million grant to expand job training at Bevill State Community College

The expanded facility will help train people in welding and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and other trades. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey and the Appalachian Regional Commission this week announced a $1.5 million grant to renovate and expand a training facility at Bevill State Community College. 

The expanded facility will help train people in welding and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and other trades. 

“Alabamians are eager to work, and we are eager for them to find jobs that will allow them to earn a good living,” Ivey said in a statement. “These funds will help more Alabamians answer the call to the state’s increasing demand for jobs in these fields. I am thankful for our partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the assistance they have provided in helping us respond to in-demand issues.”

The grant comes from Appalachian Regional Commission’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative, which targets areas affected by the closing of coal mining and coal-related industries, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the ARC program in Alabama.

“This grant is a shot in the arm for an Alabama economy that has maintained its poise during the cessation of coal industries and then the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” ADECA director Kenneth Boswell said in a statement. “ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey, ARC, Bevill State Community College and many other partners in this life-changing program.”

Dr. Chris Cox, Bevill State interim president, said the program will allow for scholarships for workers who lost jobs in coal-related industries.

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“This rapid training center expansion will help establish a career pipeline to support local manufacturing industries, will serve to diversify the region’s economy and will increase post-secondary students’ access to advanced training and completion of industry-recognized certifications,” Cox said in a statement.

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Economy

New Ford Bronco will use newer, lighter steel made in Alabama at ArcelorMittal

ArcelorMittal is also in preliminary negotiations with Ford on supplying the steel for other vehicles.

Brandon Moseley

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The 2021 Ford Bronco made of Gen 3 steel supplied by ArcelorMittal boasts a sporty look and can navigate difficult terrain. (VIA FORD)

ArcelorMittal in Mobile County was selected as the sole Gen 3 steel supplier for the 2021 Ford Bronco. This vehicle will be the first automobile in the world to incorporate Fortiform 980 GI, which is made at ArcelorMittal’s AM/NS facility in Calvert, Alabama.

Ford is placing a huge priority on light weighting and safety for the new Bronco and this steel grade accomplishes both, most notably helping to decrease the total vehicle weight by 10 percent making it more fuel efficient.

Steel, however, is stronger than aluminum or plastic thus making a safer vehicle whose occupants are more likely to survive an automobile crash.

ArcelorMittal’s co-engineering capabilities, helped foster the close collaboration between ArcelorMittal R&D and Ford’s design and welding experts. This synergy played a pivotal role in this project.

President Donald Trump’s administration has prioritized the encouragement of American steel manufacturing in trade negotiations. Tariffs placed on cheap foreign steel being allegedly dumped in the American market have made it advantageous to use American produced steel.

Both ArcelorMIttal and U.S. Steel have begun building new electric arc furnaces at their facilities in Alabama.

“In Alabama, we are witnessing immediate results from terms the Trump administration outlined in the USMCA, specifically the requirement for the automobile industry to utilize more steel made in North America,” said economic developer Nicole Jones. “Ford, an iconic American company, established a rigorous application process to become the Gen 3 steel supplier for the 2021 Ford Bronco, and Alabama-based ArcelorMittal met the challenge.”

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ArcelorMittal is in preliminary negotiations with Ford on supplying the steel for other vehicles. The company is negotiating with Ford and other original equipment manufacturers on how the world-class Fortiform 980 GI can meet their stringent lightweighting and safety targets for the vehicles of tomorrow.

“Metals and advanced materials are one of our state’s dominant industries,” Jones said. “Alabama Department of Commerce data from 2018 shows that primary metal manufacturing exports valued at nearly $1.6 billion, and fabricated metal manufacturing exports valued at $382 million. The direct and indirect jobs resulting from ArcelorMittal’s projects provide significant economic benefits for south Alabama and our entire state.”

Once ArcelorMittal completes its new electric arc furnace steelmaking facility at AM/NS Calvert, the company will have the capability of producing 1.5 million metric tonnes of steel slabs for the Hot Strip Mill and producing a broad spectrum of steel grades required for Calvert’s end-user markets including the automotive industry.

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“An electric arc furnace at Calvert makes strategic sense as it allows our asset to be more reactive to the local market as well as being in line with the USMCA,” said Lakshmi Mittal, the chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, referring to the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement on trade which replaced NAFTA. ”Furthermore, it aligns with our ambition of producing smarter steels for a better world.”

ArcelorMittal is investing more than $500 million at its Mobile County mill to help the company serve customers.

AM/NS Calvert is the world’s most advanced steel finishing facility and demonstrates the highly successful partnership between ArcelorMittal and Nippon Steel Corporation.

AM/NS Calvert was originally built by Thyssenkrupp, with a total investment cost of $4 billion. The plant was acquired by ArcelorMittal and NSC as a 50-50 joint venture in 2014.

The joint venture has already invested more than $200 million into strategic projects in Calvert since its acquisition, before the ongoing planned $500 million expansion.

ArcelorMittal is the world’s leading steel and mining company. It has a presence in 60 countries and operates steelmaking facilities in 18 countries. In 2019, ArcelorMittal had revenues of $70.6 billion and crude steel production of 89.8 million metric tonnes, while iron ore production reached 57.1 million metric tonnes.

ArcelorMittal says that their goal is to help build a better world with smarter steels.

Steels made using innovative processes which use less energy, emit significantly less carbon and reduce costs. Steels that are cleaner, stronger and reusable. Steels for electric vehicles and renewable energy infrastructure that will support societies as they transform through this century.

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Economy

Port of Mobile sets another export coal shipment record

All the cargo loaded at McDuffie consisted of Alabama metallurgical grade coal bound for Asian markets. 

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A sky view of downtown Mobile and the Port of Mobile.

The Alabama State Port Authority set another export coal shipment record loading 146,479 short tons — or 132,883.5 metric tons — at its McDuffie Coal Terminal. 

The coal was loaded to the Newcastle Max class bulk carrier, NSU WELFARE, which matches the previous record bulk ship to call the port measuring 984.2 feet in length overall, known as LOA, with a width of 164.3 feet.

All the cargo loaded at McDuffie consisted of Alabama metallurgical grade coal bound for Asian markets. 

Rick Clark, deputy director and chief operating officer for the Port Authority, noted the increased Newcastle Max calls match increasing Post-Panamax vessel calls into Mobile, in part due to ongoing infrastructure investments.

“We’re not only deepening the channel to -50 ft. draft, we are also investing in shore-side infrastructure at McDuffie to improve throughput efficiencies and expand export capacity,” the authority said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Port Authority recently signed the project agreement to let channel construction contracts by year-end 2020. The USACE awarded the first of six contracts to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company LLC on Sept. 28, 2020.

The $8.3 million contract will construct to -50 feet approximately two miles of channel including the port’s entrance.

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The harbor improvements along with the Port Authority’s planned multi-phase, $45 million capital improvement program at McDuffie are oriented toward meeting increasing vessel size and projected shipper demand.

Bernard Scott, manager of McDuffie Terminal, noted, “We’re striving to match terminal improvements with our channel expansion. Our focus shore-side will be in new equipment, equipment upgrades and yard management to accommodate the anticipated export coal needs of our customers.” 

Alabama’s metallurgical coal market is in demand and on the upswing with nearly $1.4 billion in recent or planned mining investments. Alabama’s low sulfur, high quality coking coal is ideally suited for steelmakers.

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Currently, Alabama holds about 4 billion tons of economically recoverable coal reserves, with 80 percent of those reserves comprised of metallurgical grade coal, according to a 2019 Auburn University at Montgomery economic impact study 

The Alabama State Port Authority owns and operates the state of Alabama’s deep-water port facilities at the Port of Mobile and its public facilities handle more than 26 million tons of cargo annually.

The authority’s container, general cargo and bulk facilities have immediate access to two interstate systems, five Class 1 railroads, and nearly 15,000 miles of inland waterway connections.

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