WV Plasma Plants Would Turn Coal to Chemicals, Garbage to Fuel

The State Journal
8 May 2012
By Pam Kasey

Even as one energy provider shuts down in Marion County, another is looking to start up.

FirstEnergy plans to close its Rivesville Power Station by Sept. 1, a loss of about nine jobs to the county.

But if it has its way, Allied Geo-Plasma Energy, one in a group of companies called Allied Energy Services Group, will use that Rivesville facility to make chemicals and will start another in Fairmont to make diesel fuel, and will employ 120 between the two.

"I have had eight people contact me because we were on the TV news there the other day," said Allied Energy CEO Paul Muncy. "One guy was a munitions expert in Afghanistan, and he wants to come home to a job. I have a passion for this, by God, and we're going to do it."  

The technology

Allied Geo-Plasma has entered into a license agreement with Plasma Arc Technologies of Miami, Fla., according to its website. It would use the plasma arc technology to turn carbon-based materials into synthetic gas, or syngas, as a raw material for a broad range of products.

"The plasma torch operates at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit at the torch tip," Muncy said of the technology. "It heats the feedstock hotter than the surface of the sun and it creates plasma as the fourth state of matter — solids, liquids, gas, plasma. That changes it to syngas."

According to a white paper Muncy wrote and posted online, plasma arc technology can make use of low-value carbon-based feedstocks. That includes unwashed run-of-mine coal, which means eliminating coal washing and the associated refuse that later has to be cleaned up. It can also use low-energy-content coal, high-sulfur and high-moisture coal, coal waste, automotive tires, biomass and municipal solid waste.

It breaks the hydrocarbons into a syngas of carbon and hydrogen molecules, which become building blocks. "There are 44,000 products that can be made from coal, including saccharine, wintergreen (oil), explosives, paints, dyes and roofing tar," Muncy said.

The process turns any heavy metals and other inorganic materials contained in the feedstock into a variety of construction materials, including insulation, man-made obsidian, ceramic tile and brick.

And once the plasma torch gets a jump start from outside electricity, it can run on electricity produced as part of the process, with extra to sell back onto the grid.

"So my argument is, don't burn coal in a power plant, which is creating so many problems for the coal industry," Muncy said. "Gasify it, extract the heat, make steam that turns the turbine generators, and recombine the gases to make synthetic diesel fuel. Using plasma arc technology, it's all a clean process, so it does not negatively affect the mining industry."

Two facilities

Muncy hopes to turn the old Rivesville Power Station to a syngas chemical plant.

"We would use low-grade coal," Muncy said. "There is a Washington seam and a Waynesburg seam that are close to the surface in this area, and there's 100 years of coal that we know about."

And he wants to do a different conversion at property the company owns at the mouth of the West Fork River in Fairmont.

"In a developed country, we produce 4.5 pounds of trash per person every day that we live," Muncy said. "We produce 1,500 pounds of municipal solid waste per day in this wasteshed. My intention on that plant is to gasify municipal solid waste and turn that into diesel fuel."

The site has navigation access to the Monongahela River and could ship chemical products anywhere in the world, Muncy said, and he has offtake agreements already in place.

These would be Allied's first plasma gasification plants. As an example of a plant in operation, Muncy mentioned Coskata, a subcommercial-scale plant northwest of Pittsburgh that has been making ethanol from biomass and trash for more than two years. He also said there is a full-scale plasma gasification plant running in Japan and several others planned in the U.S.

A McDowell County native, Muncy would like to bring the technology to West Virginia.

Next steps

From groundbreaking, Muncy said, each plant would take two years to build. Each would cost nearly $400 million, and he is not seeking government help. Each would create about 60 direct jobs and 300 additional jobs for truck drivers, barge hands and other supporting activities. The facilities would pay union-scale wages.

Although Muncy said he has financing and off-take lined up and asserts that the clean process is easy to permit, he faces challenges.

He declined to detail the status of acquisition or other arrangement for use of FirstEnergy's Rivesville power plant.

But he acknowledged that the Fairmont site he owns is zoned commercial, not industrial.

Fairmont City Planner Kathy Wyrosdick said she referred him to the Marion Regional Development Corp. "I'm trying to encourage him to look at other sites that aren't surrounded by homes," Wyrosdick said.

MRDC Executive Director Sharon Shaffer said she is meeting with Muncy in person on May 10.

"We want to get a greater understanding of his operation, to know whether that's a fit for the sites he's proposed to consider," Shaffer said.

Muncy expressed optimism.

He said he would donate a $2 million plasma torch to a program at West Virginia University or Fairmont State University that would train engineers and technicians.

"Because this is up and coming. It's here. It's now," he said. "Let's do business in West Virginia."