At the old Chinook mine, six slurry ponds will be dredged and sifted out to collect coal particulates.
"In the past, power plants rejected the particles because they did not have the technology to process them and they messed up the boilers," Plant Manager Dave Wood said. "However, the technology is there, and the ideal way of processing it is to mix it with regular pieces of coal."
Construction of the equipment has already began as Headwaters Energy Services, a coal-based synthetic fuel company out of Utah, awaits final approval on two tax abatements for the work by the Clay County Council.
The site, referred to by Covol Engineered Fuels as the "Chinook site," is located off of County Road 500 West, which is also known as Cory-Staunton Road. Covol is a subsidiary of Headwaters and is the company working at the site.
"This is not a coal mine as some people might think," Wood said. "However, since we are working on a mine site we do have to abide by Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) standards."
Covol has already placed the dredge tank in the first pond, which ranges from 120-150 feet wide, 40-60 feet deep and is approximately 1,500 feet long.
"We anticipate the time to dredge out this first pond, which is one of the smallest we will work on, is about 300 12-hour shifts," Wood said.
Wood said they expect to begin work on the pond the first part of November.
How the product will be collected is a long process.
First, freshwater will be pumped into the pond, then the dredge will carry the slurry through a slew of pipes to the top of the 80-foot-tall plant building which will then work its way through numerous spirals, cyclones and centrifuges to separate the particles from the slurry and water.
"Some parts of the ponds are so thick and dense that you can walk or even drive on it, which is why we add more water to it so it can flow better," Wood said. "Once it gets to the top of the plant it flows down through the pipes, mainly due to gravity."
The company is using a total of 32,000 feet of pipeline, which is 16 inches in diameter, to pump the slurry through.
Once the product has been sifted out and the slurry is eliminated, the water will be returned to the ponds much cleaner than what it started. The water will flow through the pipes at a rate of 7,000 gallons per minute.
The dredge itself, which was shipped in three pieces from Louisiana, has no way of moving laterally and must be moved by winches.
"It is a difficult and drawn out process of moving the dredge, but it is very effective as it can drill down 30 feet into the slurry and bring it up through a pipe inside of the drill," Wood said.
The entire length of the project is expected to last about 10-15 years, depending on sales, and could last even longer if the company is allowed to dredge out a seventh slurry pond located north of Interstate 70.
"There is several million tons of product in the pond north of I-70, but it is not part of the 600 acres included in our lease," Wood said.
Right now, only one 12-hour shift per day is going on, but Wood said once more employees are hired and if sales increase the amount of work will increase drastically.
"We would like to be out here 24 hours a day, seven days a week working on the ponds," he said. "Approximately 1,000 tons of clean coal can be created per 12-hour shift, but the amount of work we can do is strictly sales based."
The company has only hired the workers they need to get the plant up and running to this point, and Wood said they want to hire 15-20 employees at a rate of $20-21 an hour once the dredging starts.
The transport of the fine coal will start out on heavy trucks, but talks with the rail company in the area are ongoing to possibly create a load area to also transfer the product by railroad.
Because of this, an additional project will be starting soon to improve CR 500 W from State Road 42 to the site so the trucks can safely transport the product.
"Four additional inches of asphalt will be added to the road to compensate for the additional weigh which will be on that road," Clay County Commissioner Paul Sinders said. "Also, the ditches will be cleaned, brush and overhanging limbs will be removed and guardrails will be installed near areas with water to make transport as smooth and safe as possible."
There has yet to be any sales for the fine coal particles as companies are waiting for an analysis of the product.
"Companies are waiting to see things like how many BTU's the coal burns and other information like that before they decide to purchase the product," Wood said.
Once the entire project is completed, the company may either flood the ponds back to the current levels or fill them in.
"There is an ethanol plant going in next to our operation and they would like us to fill the ponds in to help their operation," Wood said. "The project is a long way from being near completed, but by cleaning up the ponds and finding more coal to create more energy we are helping out in many ways."