Saturday, October 30, 2010

Coal Benefication: A Huge Success Story -- No Thanks To .....


November 29, 2015: on eve of Paris global warming conference, BBC had a piece on India. Some data points: 
  • unlike virtually every other country attending the conference, India has not set a future cap on emissions, let alone proposed cuts
  • India proposes to treble CO2 emissions within the next 15 years
  • china plans to open a gigantic coal mine every single month until 2020 as part of its strategy to double coal output to a billion tonnes a year
  • India can maintain that output for the next 300 years; the county has 301 billion tonnes of accesible coal
  • total global emissions since 1850: India accounts for just 3% to data; the US is responsible for a third; Europe and other developed nations account for 45%
  • India with second greatest population; hundreds of millions still live in terrible poverty
  • average Indian: 1.6 tonnes of CO2 every year; an average American - 16.4 tonnes; the Japanese, 10.4 tonnes; and the average European, 7.4 tonnes
November 18, 2013: Germany announces largest hard coal station build since 1998; at least ten new coal-fired plants coming on line over the next two years. 

October 14, 2013: coal will surpass oil as the key transportation fuel by 2020 -- Mail OnLine.
Coal will become more in demand than oil by 2020 driven by growth in China and India, despite campaigns to reduce carbon emissions across the globe, a new report reveals.
Marking a return to an era reminiscent of Britain's industrial revolution, the rapidly expanding economies in the East are turning to coal since it is cheaper and more reliable than oil or renewable energy sources, energy consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie said on Monday.
Rising demand in China and India will push coal past oil as the two Asian powerhouses will need to rely on the comparatively cheaper fuel to power their economies.
Coal demand in the United States, Europe and the rest of Asia will hold steady.'China's demand for coal will almost single-handedly propel the growth of coal as the dominant global fuel,' said William Durbin, president of global markets at Woodmac.
'Unlike alternatives, it is plentiful and affordable.' China - already the top consumer - will drive two-thirds of the growth in global coal use this decade. Half of China's power generation capacity to be built between 2012 and 2020 will be coal-fired, said Woodmac.
July 8, 2012: KMP to ship more coal through Gulf-friendly states; west coast environmentalists putting kabosh on shipping coal from the west coast. 

January 9, 2012 a fourth extension; waiting to see if Obama administration is more favorable to the coal industry; not gonna happen; will have to wait for change in administration 'cause it doesn't look like hell will freeze over this winter; very, very warm in North Dakota this winter
  • The state Industrial Commission in 2006 committed up to $10 million in state aid from coal tax collections to help weigh the project's potential. About $1.3 million has been used so far.

Notes In General

This is a summary of coal plants in Montana and North Dakota with regard to "haze" in the national parks:
  • Three big coal plants in Coalstrip, Montana, 140 miles southwest from Bowman, ND
  • Small coal generator in Glendive, Montana (MDU); so small, it is used only as a back-up unit
  • All other coal power plants are well east of the parks, in Mandan, Center, Beulah, and Underwood, ND; and the wind generally blows west to east; these coal plants are not the cause of haze in the parks
Original Post 
With all the attention being given to the oil industry in western North Dakota, it is easy to forget that there is also a thriving coal industry in the state.

I have a very nice primer on three new technologies being developed in North Dakota which could revolutionize the coal industry around the world:
  • coal beneficiation (drying)
  • above-ground gasification
  • below-ground gasification
Today there is an excellent story in the Minot Daily Press about the benefication process at Underwood, North Dakota. Underwood is literally halfway between Minot and Bismarck, about an hour's drive from both of these cities, on US Highway 83.

The coal benefication process removes water and contaminants like mercury and sulfur from the lignite; compresses them into briquets which makes it much easier to ship and much more energy efficient for electric power plants.

I would never have thought this process would have worked. Over the years a lot of money has been sunk into this project requiring the partnership of private investors, a lignite cooperative, and government agencies, including the federal government. This did not happen overnight. It took decades.

And it is a real success story, at least based on what I am reading about it today. Engineers from around the world, as far away as China, are coming to see the Creek Coal Station, owned and managed by a consortium called Great River Energy.

As I was reading that story it reminded me of a recent article in a national newspaper in which President Obama expounded on the (few) jobs that that wind energy industry had created under his watch. In fact, the wind energy programs had been in the works for years and begun and promoted under the auspices of the Bush administration. It took years just to get the environmental impact statements completed, resolve the legal disputes (in court), obtain the rights-of-way, and fund the projects. Erecting the towers was the easy part, and that was all done under the previous administration. President Obama did not give credit where credit was due.

This is what caught my attention in today's article:
In 2002, Great River Energy received funding help from North Dakota's Lignite Energy Council to establish a pilot project using a 2.5-ton-an-hour fluidized-bed dryer. When the coal bubbled across the dryer, as if in an old-time coffee percolator, the agitation caused denser material to fall to the bottom of the dryer. The process separated material containing a high percentage of sulfur and mercury from the lignite fuel.
The results of the study led the the U.S. Department of Energy and Great River Energy to enter a collaborative agreement for another phase of testing. The $31.5 million project was managed by the department's National Energy Technology Laboratory with support from Lehigh University, Electric Power Research Institute and several companies.
Let's say this project was still in its infancy in 2008. Would this project have gone forward under the Obama administration?  Is it likely that the Obama administration would have been interested in a fly-over state doing research on the dirtiest and least efficient coal in the world (that would be lignite)? I was not even convinced this could work. There's no way the Obama administration would have been interested.

It is being said in more and more venues: President Obama is anti-business. It began as a partisan mantra, but is becoming mainstream. He is definitely anti-coal.

I am reminded of a quote often attributed to Robert F. Kennedy:
"Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?" (I don't have a clip of the actual speech. Sorry.)
Somehow I just don't see anyone in the current administration asking, "Why not? Why isn't the government more interested in promoting business? Why can't we make one of our nation's greatest resources (coal) clean and efficient?"  The Chinese must have translated Robert F. Kennedy's speech for their schoolchildren.

This is all the more perplexing during a economic slump with an unemployment rate at 10% and worse in some areas of the country.

Anyway, I digress. Congratulations to all the folks who have persevered in the coal industry under great odds favoring failure.


April 19, 2011: We're getting closer. The revised South Heart Coal application has less than 400 deficiencies.

January 13, 2011: South Heart Coal completes revision of application for coal mine and coal processing facility near South Heart, 25 miles due east of Medora, ND, center of the south unit, Teddy Roosevelt National Park; and about 14 miles from the entrance to the park on I-94.

December 1, 2010: PSC denies South Heart Coal's application to strip mine. Company remains optimistic, "getting closer." The state mining permit covers 4,581 acres near South Heart. The mine would fuel a proposed hydrogen-to-electricity factory that is expected to cost more than $1 billion.

November 5, 2010: South Heart Coal will re-submit its bid to strip mine coal three miles west of South Heart. South Heart Coal is jointly owned by Great Northern Project Development and Allied Syngas Corporation. There are indications that the coal will be used to power a new power plant similar to the Creek Coal Station using coal beneficiation technology.
The land plan described in the application has been designed to provide coal to a commercial scale gasification plant to be located adjacent to the mine, Deutsch said. GTLE has a coal beneficiation plant project less than a half a mile away from GNPD’s proposed project. “Yes there still is (sic) plans to build a beneficiation plant,” Southwick said. “It will be the same process that GTLE uses, in fact we’ll license GTL’s process, but it’ll be a much larger facility than GTL’s.” Southwick said a plant is planned for the property’s south end where the extracted and beneficiated coal would be gasified to make hydrogen to drive a turbine producing electricity. “Our plan is to still build that power plant,” Southwick said.
It's still a bit confusing to me, but it sounds like South Heart Coal will dry the coal and then use that coal for coal gasification.


  1. i think this is a great story from the Minot paper..we have hundreds of years of coal in ND.

  2. I think it's incredible. I never would have thought this was technically possible, much less economically viable. A lot of folks, inside and outside of government, inside and outside the private sector are to be congratulated. This is a perfect example in which the government, the private sector and academicians worked together to solve a problem. Also, I did not see the phrase "cost overrun" in this story.

  3. Thee mine in the South Heart area (if ever built)is a clean coal technology plant. Scrubbing the CO2 from the coal. It is estimated that there are millions of barrels of recoverable oil in the Heath alone with CO2 injection. Let alone other formations (someday maybe even the Bakken with technology and if they can get communication between the wellbores)

  4. Thank you for stopping by and posting. The energy resources in western North Dakota are simply incredible.