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Rapidly extinguished

Carrageenan processing pump catches fire in Rockland

By Lynda Clancy | Dec 04, 2011
Photo by: Lynda Clancy A pump that circulate alcohol through the carageenan manufacturing plant in Rockland caught fire Sunday morning, Dec. 4, drawing Rockland and Rockport firefighters to the city's waterfront.

Rockland — An early morning fire at FMC BioPolymer on Crocketts Point in Rockland was quickly extinguished Dec. 4 after a pump overheated in the plant's alcohol room.

Rockland firefighters arrived at the manufacturing facility soon after 6 a.m. to find a fire in a part of the plant that uses alcohol to process its carrageenan products. The pump had caught fire, and while sprinklers were at work when firefighters entered the building, Rockland Fire continued to extinguish the fire.

"That's one of the places in the city that if we get a call we know it might not be good," said Rockland's Assistant Fire Chief Ken Elwell.

Rockland responded with four engines, 10 firefighters and three ambulances; Rockport responded with two engines and approximately 10 firefighters.

FMC Corporation, based in Philadelphia, is a diversified chemical company that serves agricultural, industrial and consumer markets around the globe.  In 2010, FMC had annual sales of approximately $3.1 billion and employed approximately 5,000 people throughout the world. On Rockland's waterfront, FMC operates FMC BioPolymer, producing carrageenan from seaweed.

The seaweed arrives in containers from all over the world, and is processed at the Rockland site.

According to FMC, the dried seaweed is ground and sieved to eliminate sand and salt.

Following washing, the seaweed "undergoes a hot extraction process to separate the carrageenan from the extraneous plant fiber. Removal of the cellulosic material requires a two step clarification process. First, we centrifuge the dissolved carrageenan mixture to eliminate the dense cellulosic particles. Then, filtration is used to remove the smaller particles.

"The solution is then concentrated by evaporation to accommodate the removal of water.

"The carrageenan is then recovered by one of two processing methods. In one method, the concentrated carrageenan solution is deposited into a solution of potassium chloride. This raises the gelling temperature so that the filtrate will gel immediately. The gel is then frozen and compressed while thawing to remove excess water.

In the second method, the concentrated carrageenan solution is precipitated in isopropyl alcohol. As carrageenan is insoluble in alcohol, the filtrate turns into a coagulum of carrageenan, alcohol and water. The coagulum is compressed to remove the liquids and vacuum dried to completely remove the alcohol. Drying is completed on a belt drier and the dried coagulum is then ground to specification."

Firefighters were heading back to the station by 7:30 a.m.

 

 

Lynda Clancy can be reached at lclancy@villagesoup.com, or 236-8511, ext. 304.

 

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