Clean-coal project to turn up the heat

Montana State Roundup

Published April 1, 1991  |  April 1991 issue

A new synthetic coal, designed to burn hotter and cleaner, will be produced at a $69 million clean-coal plant now under construction in Colstrip, Mont.

Western Energy Co., Billings, and NRG Group, an affiliate of Northern States Power Company, Minneapolis, along with the US Department of Energy (DOE) are building the Rosebud SynCoal plant to test the new coal product for marketability and efficiency.

When completed in early 1992, Rosebud SynCoal will employ 20 people and produce 300,000 tons of the new coal per year during the three-year test period. Eventual production could be 1 million to 3 million tons per year.

The plant will remove moisture from the raw coal, producing a cleaner coal that meets Environmental Protection Agency emission standards and provides 34 percent more heat per pound.

Paul Gatzemeier, vice president, Western Energy, says the new product "represents a viable fuel option for utilities." Other markets for the new coal are industries that require high processing temperatures, such as sugar plants and paper mills.

The Rosebud SynCoal plant is one of 38 nationwide DOE projects under the Clean Coal Technology Program. The federal government will contribute $34.5 million, or about 50 percent of the construction cost. The DOE will remain a partner during the three-year test phase.

If the plant proves successful, the government's investment in the venture must be repaid. However, Western Energy and the NRG Group are not liable for that $34.5 million if the product is not commercially viable and does not provide revenue for repayment. "The project has low-to-moderate risk of failure," Gatzemeier says.

Marketing efforts will focus initially on Midwest utilities, eventually expanding to include the Pacific Rim. Based on the performance of Rosebud SynCoal, future plants may be constructed.

Diane Wells