Technology separates coal, ash without chemicals - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Technology separates coal, ash without chemicals

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West Virginia Coal Reclamation Managing Partner Gene Ricciardi can't think of any reason the industry wouldn't embrace the DriJet 100, a new technology that can separate coal from ash without using water or chemicals.

The technology, developed by Pennsylvania-based Mineral Separation Technologies, uses x-rays to scan and separate coal from ash. That means it's cleaner, portable and more reliable than traditional coal prep plants.

It's also faster and much more economical.

"It eliminates a lot of risk for us, a lot of potential exposure, that's what we like about it," Ricciardi said. "It provides on-site separation and cleaning, so we don't have to worry about transporting large volumes of coal in trucks — we're going to be transporting probably one-third of amount in trucks that we normally would. 

"There's a lot less possibility of contamination into the water system and air."

The Kanawha County company was first in the industry to purchase the technology, but Ricciardi and his partner, Joe Cornfield, are satisfied it will live up to the hype. Though their system isn't operational yet, Ricciardi said they've run their coal through the machine "and it's worked." 

"Of course, we haven't run it 12 hours a day, 365 days a year, but we anticipate that it should be fine," he said. "Nobody else is able to separate coal into the sizes we want and the quality we want, with basically touch-screen instructions. 

"You just walk in, set it to the size you want and the type of separation you're looking for and turn it on. I think it's going to be the future of mineral separation in West Virginia and other countries, it just makes so much sense to not have to transport it to a plant and have to wash it."

Mineral Separations CEO Charles Roos said the patented technology uses x-rays to identify the atomic weight of the coal particles and then air jets separate coal from ash.

"DriJet technology has many valuable practical applications," Roos said. "Perhaps the most important one is that it eliminates the possibility of a chemical spill such as the one that happened recently in Charleston."

A tank at Freedom Industries in Charleston leaked roughly 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM and PPH — a blend used to scrub coal — into the Elk River Jan. 9. The leak spurred a state of emergency and left 300,000 people in parts of nine southern West Virginia counties under a "do not use" tap water order for at least four days, and longer for some.

Roos said with DriJet, the ash is removed from the coal right at the mine face.

"The technology was developed for separating recycled metals and recycled plastics; it's been used for years in that industry," he said. "There have been hundreds of installations around the world in recycling plants. 

"About five years ago we noticed electronics had gotten fast enough and sensors fast enough that we could use the technology on (other) material streams."

Roos said the technology means fewer coal trucks on the road and less coal waste in impoundments, both positive changes for the industry. It also requires less horsepower and fewer moving parts, which cuts operating costs.

"It cuts the cost from mine to market, and it is much better for the environment than processes now in use," he said. "Simply stated, our technology is cleaner, portable and more reliable than traditional coal prep plants," Roos said.

Major components of the technology are manufactured in Beckley.

"We took a sample and x-rayed it and saw the variations in atomic weight, and we were delighted," Roos said. "We knew then we could do it. We did our research to figure out what the industry would want, then we built a prototype a couple of years ago, a very small one, to make sure we could do it and do it fast enough. 

"Then we built a big one, a production model, and it's been received very well."

He said there's been a lot of industry interest, "a lot of people are excited." 

With DriJet, reserves that didn't make economic sense to mine before are suddenly cost-accessible, and mines that were running at a loss are back in the black.

"You can do things with coal that you couldn't do before," he said. "Coal out west where there's no water at all suddenly can be mined. Coal in the desert in China suddenly makes sense to mine. Coal in India that they burn with exceedingly high ash because they don't have the water to wash it, now they don't have to wash it. 

"It makes coal cleaner and more economic. How often does a technology come along that makes an energy product both more economic and cleaner?"

Roos said the technology could open doors at many companies.

"No technology is a good fit for all coal, but this is another option," he said. "For some mines, it's an excellent option, and it's far less expensive than building a prep plant."

Ricciardi figures it's going to be the "future of mineral separation in West Virginia and other countries." 

The DriJet can process 20,000 pieces of coal per second and deliver a higher quality product. 

"Instead of having a 50 percent, 60 percent reject rate, now we have 25 percent, 30 percent reject," he said. "It lets us sell our product for a lot more money. 

"So it basically pays for itself by creating a larger market value for coal that goes way beyond the cost of the DriJet."