Bowie proposes gasification plant at idled coal mine

Bowie Resources LLC is seeking to build a plant to produce synthetic gas from coal waste at its mine near Paonia, a potential opportunity for the company to claw back jobs lost when the mine was idled earlier this year.

Coal gasification involves producing gas by subjecting coal to heat and pressure rather than burning it directly, the U.S. Department of Energy says on its Office of Fossil Energy website. The gas produced at the Bowie No. 2 Mine would be used to generate either electricity or diesel/fuel oil, according to a permit revision application a contract engineer submitted on behalf of Bowie to the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

The application describes the use of what it calls a DAXIOM plant, “a patent pending process for the recovery of energy from waste materials.”

“In general, DAXIOM is a state of the art gasification process operated in a closed, oxygen deprived environment and generates virtually no pollution,” the application says.

However, it would emit carbon dioxide, supporting materials indicate. Carbon dioxide is considered the principal cause of climate change.

The project proposal envisions five coal gasification units operating 24 hours a day, and each capable of processing of 72 tons per day of coal mine waste. The plant would be built where the Bowie #2 Mine’s clean coal stockpile resides, after that stockpile is depleted.

The mine has been idle since earlier in the year due to a depressed market for coal.

A Bowie representative could not be reached for comment last week about the gasification project. Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said the mining division “only very recently received this proposal, and we’re still sorting out our (regulatory) role, if any, and potentially that of other relevant agencies.”

Robbie LeValley, administrator for Delta County, said Bowie hasn’t yet approached the county about the project.

“If they are moving forward it would take coming to the county for a specific development application and process.”

She said the county would be “very interested” in such a project, “but we’d also want to look at the full details.”

Interest in economic development is high in the county following the loss of hundreds of local coal mining jobs in recent years.

Thomas Cmar, an attorney with the conservation group Earthjustice, is skeptical about the viability of a coal gasification project. He said a number have been proposed in the United States over the years.

“Very few of them actually ever get built, especially when you’re talking about taking coal and then gasifying it not just to generate electricity but also then to take that synthetic gas and turn it into a liquid fuel. A facility like has never been built in the United States because of the economics of it,” he said.

He said those economics never have made sense considering the relatively low cost of conventional fuels.

He said a lot of coal gasification projects have gone through the initial stages of developing and permitting, apparently often because companies have been interested in state and federal subsidies and loan guarantees, but they eventually walk away from the projects, with taxpayer dollars wasted in the process.

Cmar said he’s not familiar with the specifics of the DAXIOM process, but it appears to be similar to other gasification projects. They can cost billions of dollars to build if they’re of any significant size, and are expensive to operate, he said.

Bowie’s application materials show that the company behind the DAXIOM process is called El Camino Duro Investments Ltd., based in the Bahamas.

Cmar said that besides the climate impacts from carbon dioxide emissions, such plants often are designed with flares in case they malfunction and they could see bursts of emissions of sulfur dioxide and other harmful pollutants in such circumstances.

A gasification plant could result in a lot of construction jobs, Cmar said, but he views it as a risky proposal for the long term and thinks there are more cost-effective ways to create jobs.

“This is a proposal that needs to be very carefully evaluated for its environmental impacts and any promises of economic development that come with it,” he said.

The Department of Energy website says the federal government was involved in coal gasification research in the early 20th century, and first domestic use of the process in a modern electric power plant occurred in the 1980s. In the 1990s, DOE’s Clean Coal Technology Program provided federal cost-sharing for the nation’s first commercial-scale combined-cycle gasification plants. Such plants are more efficient because they generate steam for steam turbines using exhaust from the gas-combustion turbines and heat from the gasification process.

“Coal gasification offers one of the most versatile and clean ways to convert coal into electricity, hydrogen, and other valuable energy products,” the website says, adding that “many experts predict that coal gasification will be at the heart of future generations of clean coal technology plants.”


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