WISE COUNTY, Va. - The coal industry is hurting and there's another sign of trouble -- the TVA's announcement that it's shuttering eight coal-fired boilers with more reduction on the way.
It doesn't directly affect our region, but it points out the condition of the coal business in general. It means the loss of jobs.
Can coal remain a viable resource for making power, and what new technologies are out there to help? We attended a lecture at UVA-Wise that may be a game changer for the industry.
Coal in and of itself is pure carbon that has taken million of years to make. Through that timespan it has picked up some harmful pollutants.
Steve Hooper, the CEO of a company called EnviraCarbon, explains more about the process. "Coal doesn't have any pollution in it until the rock above it, water that drains through that rock, picks up the minerals in it -- iron, sulfur and all that," he said.
And when burned to make power, those minerals get into the air.
So what if you could make coal not in millions of years, but a much shorter time? "The statement was, 'I wonder if we could escalate the coalification process?' That's what we sought out to do, to make coal actually make coal out of biomass," Hooper said.
Hooper gave a lecture about his company's product and how that product added with coal would reduce emissions without any retrofitting to existing coal-burning plants.
Hooper gave an example of what would happen if ten percent of coal in a plant was replaced with his product. "You take out 10 percent of the sulfur that's in that coal, 10 percent of the mercury, 10 percent of the arsenic, 10 percent of the lead. All of those things come out," he said.
He let his listeners know that the company is up and running, and using any type of wood products to create coal and then exporting it to Europe.
Is it the answer to help the failing industry or just one solution? "We're going to have to get rid of our traditional thinking. All of us are, whether we're in the coal business or whether we in another business. We're just going to have to come out of the box that we live in and they all together to make it work," he said.
Hooper has been in Wise County looking at sites for a possible facility that would help ease the loss of jobs in the county.