A new manufacturing plant that turns coal into fertilizer is coming to Beckley.
Bringing the plant into the city has been a work in progress for years, according to Ron Hedrick, project manager and former Raleigh County commissioner. Its arrival will create jobs and bring a boost to the local coal industry.
“We are here to take another step in the direction of bringing manufacturing jobs to Raleigh County,” Hedrick said at a press conference at the WVU Tech campus in Beckley on Thursday, Oct. 20. “For the past couple of years, myself and the folks from George Washington University, Mississippi State, Englo Global and others . . . we have all been working to try to educate, not just ourselves, but the public, about other uses for coal and why it’s important that, as a coal-producing state like West Virginia, we try to find new ways to use it so that it doesn’t disappear.”
Engineers, scientists and students from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and Mississippi State University began research to find an environmentally friendly way to use coal years ago, Hedrick continued. Last summer, WVU Tech, through a National Science Foundation grant, sent engineering student Tanner Myers to Mississippi State to help them in their endeavors. Myers made an impression and became one of the top students working on the project, Hedrick said.
He was presented a plaque and a $1,000 monetary award for his achievement during the conference.
With the addition of Myers, and through continued research, a patent for the engineering and the science of the product was granted. Now, Englo Global, owned by Tim Warden and based out of Bluefield, has received a contract to bring the product to Beckley, where professors and future engineers at WVU Tech can begin work in the pilot plant with the ultimate goal of growing to employ 100-200 employees and allowing WVU Tech engineering students to complete additional research and remain in southern West Virginia.
The pilot plant will be housed on South Kanawha Street near the WVU Tech campus and will initially employ about 10-12 people, Hedrick stated in a later interview with the West Virginia Daily News.
Hedrick and others are in the process of applying for a $1.5 million Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant to help them move equipment from the Mississippi State Campus into their new building where they can start manufacturing the product called CoalChar. The process for creating CoalChar is fairly straightforward.
Once the plant is up and running, coal will be purchased from local mines and delivered to the facility, according to information provided by Hedrick. Then, depending on coal grade, it will either be pyrolyzed or immediately crushed, mixed with a salt solution and sent to a solar-hybrid kiln for drying. Once the drying process is complete, the resulting product touts the ability to amend depleted soils and adsorb phosphate, which is a major contributor to the growth of Cyanobacterial blooms (algae) in West Virginia waters through run-off.
The pilot facility is estimated to produce about a ton of product a day, Hedrick noted.
Projected markets for this product include use as a soil conditioner for lawns, gardens, row crops and forest crops and for environmental remediation and wastewater treatment plants.
Additionally, the use of coal pellets as an alternative heating source is projected to cost significantly less than use of wood pellets.
“Our goal is to manufacture not only the product but to invent and turn Beckley into the center of this new industry,” Hedrick stated during the conference. “It is green. It is using coal and other products and basically, someday, we hope that Beckley will be known for producing green manufacturing jobs and products that can be sold all over the world.”
He added that creating a billion-dollar manufacturing facility in Beckley seems like a big dream, but big dreams start small and are completed one step at a time.
Two WVU Tech professors, mechanical engineer Dr. Yogendra Panta and Dr. Kenan Hatipoglu, have partnered with Mississippi State and George Washington universities on the project and plan to continue to develop ways to make green technologies from coal.
“I have found other students who are interested in this type of project,” Panta stated during the conference. “I am thrilled, and our team is really thrilled to be a part of this because this project brings real-world problem-solving experiences to our students.”
For more information visit, coalchar.com.