Fill 'er up with ... coal scraps?
Plant gets funding to transform waste coal into cheap diesel fuel

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, September 30, 2005

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- It sounds too good to be true -- turning "waste coal" into cheap, usable diesel fuel -- but Gov. Ed Rendell and developers John Rich and Robert Hoppe insist that it can and will be done.


Using an updated version of technology first developed by German scientists in the 1920s, the plant will transform waste coal, or "culm," into cleaner-burning diesel fuel and home-heating oil.

The process involves mixing gasified waste coal with oxygen and water, then heating it to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit to produce a synthetic gas. The gas undergoes another chemical reaction to become paraffin wax, which is refined into diesel fuel. -- The Associated Press

Rendell announced yesterday the state and federal government will help finance a $612 million plant in Schuylkill County in northeastern Pennsylvania that will turn the tons of unused, lower-grade coal that litter the Pennsylvania landscape into diesel fuel that can be burned in trucks and airplanes.

Rendell said there would be three major benefits from the new plant, which Rich said will be under construction by spring. The plant will be built by Waste Management and Processors Inc. of Schuylkill County. Rich is president.

Rendell said producing such diesel fuel "will help create energy independence for Pennsylvania" by lessening the state's dependence on foreign oil.

Secondly, it will create 1,000 construction jobs to build the plant in Mahanoy City, about 60 miles north of Harrisburg, as well as 600 permanent jobs.

Thirdly, it will have environmental benefits by gradually removing the piles of leftover, lower-grade coal that litter the state -- mainly in northeast and southwest Pennsylvania -- and can cause environmental problems, especially when rain hits the coal and causes acid runoff that pollutes streams.

The state is providing $47 million in tax credits for the project, and the federal government has provided $100 million in loan guarantees. The rest of the money is private, Rich said.

Hoppe said there are tons of unused coal, sometimes called "waste" coal or "dirty" coal, that hasn't been considered high-grade enough for use until now.

In northeast Pennsylvania, this waste coal, also called culm, is of the anthracite variety, but southwest Pennsylvania also has waste coal that is bituminous.

Using a process that has existed in South Africa for years, the waste coal is turned first into a gas and then into clean, clear diesel fuel.

William Harrison, an official of the U.S. Defense Department, said his agency is looking at the diesel fuel for military planes.

Rendell said the state itself will buy some of the diesel fuel along with private firms such as Worley & Obetz Inc. and the Keystone Alliance, a fuel purchase group for the trucking industry.

The coal-to-fuel product also can be used as home heating oil, he said.

"I am determined to start bringing our energy independence back," said Rendell, who is also working with a Spanish firm that will build electricity-producing windmills in the state.

"The market is ripe for investments in major energy projects that stabilize [fuel] prices, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, promote domestic employment and economic development and improve the environment."

Rendell said he's talking with governors in other coal-producing areas, such as West Virginia and Montana, with hopes of creating other such diesel plants using waste coal in those areas.

(Harrisburg Bureau chief Tom Barnes can be reached at 1-717-787-4254.)

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