Pa. clears way for plant to turn waste coal into diesel fuel
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Hoping to jump-start plans to build the first commercial U.S. plant to convert waste coal to diesel fuel, Gov. Ed Rendell announced Thursday that the state will form a consortium with private businesses to buy most of the fuel the plant produces.The announcement was intended to encourage investment in the $612 million project, which also would produce home heating oil. Proponents say it could make the U.S. less reliant on foreign oil while getting rid of huge piles of waste coal, although the plant would create pollution of its own.State Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty said the consortium will qualify the project for guaranteed federal loans. Language that effectively reserved the loans for the project was included in the federal energy bill President Bush signed two months ago, she said.Waste Management and Processors Inc. in Gilberton plans to begin construction of the plant next spring in Mahanoy Township, Schuylkill County, about 50 miles northeast of Harrisburg. Construction is expected to take up to three years.The plant is expected to produce 40 million gallons of fuel a year, and McGinty said consortium members have agreed to buy all but 2 million gallons of that.There are an estimated 258 million tons of waste coal, or culm, piled on more than 8,500 acres in northeastern and southwestern Pennsylvania. The waste coal – the smallest pieces, left behind when the marketable coal is sifted out – “produces nothing but environmental problems for us,” Rendell said.Using an updated version of technology first developed by German scientists in the 1920s, the plant would transform culm to produce cleaner-burning diesel fuel, heating oil and potentially other petroleum-based fuels.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 process would create soot and leave behind toxins such as mercury, but John Hanger, president of the statewide environmental group PennFuture, said converting waste coal into other fuel is better than the alternatives. He said the downsides are outweighed by the benefits of reducing water pollution from culm and producing cleaner-burning fuel.”There’s no way of making energy that has zero impact on the environment,” he said.Rendell said the project would provide 600 permanent jobs and 1,000 construction jobs.Besides the $465 million expected to be covered by federal loans, the state has earmarked $47 million in tax credits for the project and the Energy Department has committed $100 million in grants.Vail, Colorado
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