NORTON, Va. - A recent announcement by President Obama concerning EPA regulations surrounding the burning of coal for electricity has the industry reeling.
Mines are shutting down and jobs are lost, but some offer solutions with a cleaner-burning coal. One of the byproducts of developing this cleaner-burning coal is an oil that can be converted into diesel fuel.
The Norton Kiwanis Club recently invited Dick Wolfe, president of Carbonite Corporation, to speak at their weekly luncheon.
Wolfe talked of his life's work of developing a cleaner-burning form of coal, known as 'coke'. All of the impurities and harmful emissions are burned off with intense heat.
It's an idea that he has worked with for 25 years and now may be the time for his innovations to help the suffering coal industry. "Converting coal now into these new forms of clean energy, taking the mercury out like we're doing and then making a coal liquid which is a byproduct and natural gas, this is really a beginning of a whole new transition for coal," Wolfe said.
Some coal company executives have invested $20 million in a plant near Norton to bring his vision to light.
Wolfe told his audience that it's crude oil that is enemy of coal, not natural gas. "The biggest market we have is imported oil, that's our villain. Imported oil is our villain. That's what's breaking this country and the transfer of $600 million a day," he says.
Members of the audience told us it's time for some honest talk about the future of coal, and not its demise. "I think its a matter of sitting down and opening a dialogue with the government, with this administration, if they would, explaining where we come from, what we can do for the country and get those guys to move off center from where they are now," said John Belcher, executive director for the Virginia Mining Association.
Wolfe says the economics are in favor of cleaner coal technology now more than ever, creating a sustainable market for coal for years to come.