TransGas on coal-to-liquids: “We’re trying to start an industry” - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

TransGas on coal-to-liquids: “We’re trying to start an industry”

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Updated Nov. 13 to correct status of air emissions permit

With sustained high prices for oil and gasoline, it may now be just a matter of years before the nation's first plant to convert coal to liquid transportation fuels is built.

TransGas Development Systems still is on track to start construction on its Adams Fork plant in Mingo County in the first quarter of 2013, according to Randall Harris, TransGas project developer for the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority.

"We're still moving forward," Harris said.

"This whole fundraising part of the development is strange to me. I'm an engineer. (TransGas Development Systems President Adam Victor) and his crowd are the people who know how to do that," he said. "I tag along and explain the technology, and they're still of the opinion they're going to be able to close this thing the first part of 2013."

The Adams Fork project is designed to convert 7,500 tons of local coal per day to 18,000 barrels of gasoline and 300 barrels of liquefied petroleum gas, or propane, according to 2011 information on the project.

Initial site work was begun on the $4 billion plant over the summer, and Harris said the company has plot plans and the "geotech" work that characterizes the soil and underlying rock.

Although Adams Fork originally was announced as having a 48-month timeline, that included this period of seeking financing so the actual construction schedule will be a little shorter — anywhere from 39 to 46 months, Harris said.

The company's air emissions permit, which had been under appeal, is now final, Harris said.

"There is a dispute between (the state Department of Environmental Protection) and the review board over administrative process," he said, adding that that does not affect the validity of the permit.

If everything moves forward on schedule, that would put the plant in operation by the beginning of 2017.

TransGas is not the only company looking to get the first commercial-scale coal-to-liquids plant in the U.S. in operation.

Some companies put out a lot of press but a very few actually are moving forward, Harris said.

Although he declined to list them, he acknowledged familiarity and communication with DKRW Advanced Fuels of Houston, which has proposed to build the Medicine Bow Fuel & Power plant in Wyoming.

DKRW recently signed a deal with China Petrochemical Corp., known familiarly as Sinopec, for engineering, procurement and construction, and it also is looking to China for financing.

"We're all using a lot of the same financing people — there are only so many in the world that can raise that kind of money," Harris said. "So there's a lot of background chatter as to who's committed to what."

The Medicine Bow project has been estimated to cost $2 billion. Although it originally was proposed to produce about 20,000 barrels per day of gasoline, Harris said he thinks the developers have reduced the scale.

All of the serious coal-to-liquids developers are using basically the same processes, he said.

Asked whether there's a friendly race among them to get the first plant online, Harris demurred.

"it's not really a race because there's no real advantage to anybody that wins," he said.

"The position we've always taken is ‘the more the merrier,' because we're trying to build an industry," he said. "That's the reason there's quite a bit of background discussion among the serious developers."