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Raven Industries Inc. Message Board

  • skiplarson98 skiplarson98 Aug 17, 2012 10:59 AM Flag

    Synfuels Plant

    Well, on the recommendation of Ernie I did get an early start Thursday saving plenty of time for the Dakota Gasification Company synfuels plant NW of Beulah. We had been bicycle riding for 5 days at that point and the road to Beulah was about 45 miles from where we had camped in Hebron the night before. I was underway at first light and got to the plant about 10AM. There are scheduled tours 4 times a day, but no one else was at the visitor center and so I was walked around the model by, was it Gerri?, a retired english teacher from Ohio.

    That whole plant, which is the only one of it's kind in the Americas, was designed in a model about 1-30/th scale and that is what the tour and visitor center consists of. It is very much like the typical petrochemical complex except that the feedstock is coal rather than oil. And the biggest surprise to me was that the coproducts are not the usual ones for petrochemicals like ethane, propane, butane, etc. Here they are anhydrous ammonia, CO2, ammonium sulphate, and several smaller items like xenon and krypton. Only 5% of the coal processed turns to waste ash and is buried in clay lined pits at the lignite coal mines surrounding the plant.

    The complex is owned by Basin Electric, a coop providing power to many cooperatives across several midwest states and coal fines as well as some of the gasified coal are burned at their Antelope power plant 26 miles east of the gasification facility. The rest is injected into an easterly flowing pipeline back in Hebron where we camped, into Iowa and on east. The original investors of $4B or so building this plant were from the eastern half of the country and planned to buy the product in their home areas.


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    • Those 280,000 tons of coal per day are delivered by 5 Kress 300 ton and 3 Kress 240 ton bottom dump trucks. So about 100 truckloads delivered per day. I did not see any conveyor belts though I'd rather expect the fines delivered to antelope valley station which probably go from a fixed screening plant to the fixed power plant would make a covered conveyor the most efficient way of moving that much coal each day. Or perhaps it could be blown through a pipeline.

      The power plant and the mine also offer tours so next year on that bike ride which always starts just across the lake from this complex I think I'll schedule another day of tours at the three facilities trying to get a few of my fellow bike riders interested as well.

      I was surprised to see that coal is loaded in trains for the 30 mile trip to Haskett station. I know years ago National Steel threatened the railroads in Ohio/Pennsylvania with using a pipeline to ship coal slurry if they did not lower their rates. But then I'm not sure if adding water to the slurry would be efficient since the coal would presumable need to be dried at the delivery point.

      I notice that the 45 cubic yard front end loaders used to load trucks and I suppose cars are rated at 34 tons. So Lignite must weigh 1511 pounds. Pretty light. At least compared with iron ore and gravel.

      They mine 700 to 1000 acres (about 1.4 square miles) and reclaim the same number of acres each year. The coal seam varies from 13 to 20 feet thick and from 50 to 150 feet of overburden must be removed to get at it. So about 5 times the volume of overburden is removed and then replaced as the coal taken out. Turned into wheat land and natural grasses in the same contour as it was before mining. If my math is right, that means after 30 years of mining they would still only have to haul an average of about 4 miles from pit to synfuel plant.

      This is fun for me. L.

    • One housekeeping item. The Freedom mine provides about 28,000 tons of coal a day to the synfuels plant. 18 are used for gasification and the rest apparently is fines moved to the Antelope Valley Station--the power plant owned by Basin Electric. What I made a mistake on was suggesting that plant was 26 miles east of the synfuel plant. It is actually about 2 miles north. The Freedom mine also provides coal for the MDU Heskett power plant just north of Mandan and requiring a 30 mile train trip from the mine.

      Another clarification item I learned upon reading some more of the literature I picked up is that the second tank for anhydrous ammonia is rated at 30,000 tons. I estimate a rail car at about 100 tons so it will hold about 3 trainloads and will make it possible for the plant to keep running without shutdown during the part of the year when farmers don't need fertilizer.

      But the big thing I discovered and wanted to mention is another efficiency just now being developed. A regular coproduct of the gasification process has been producing something called tar oil which was used to burn in the boilers for steam generation or whatever else was required. Now that natural gas is so much cheaper, they are constructing a stripper tower to remove water and light hydrocarbons from tar oil to product #6 fuel oil. That will be stored in a new rail load out facility and storage area with rail sidings to store more cars. Then natural gas will be burned in the boilers while the fuel oil will be sold. It the price of liquids go down relative to gas, the boiler fuel can be easily changed back.

      Those 18,000 tons of lignite turn into about 160 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. I think that is the figure my guide was calculating the comparison with a petrochemical plant on because I've heard that 6,000 cubic feet of gas is equal in heat production to a barrel of oil. If that was the figure she was using it would come out closer to 27,000 barrels a day just for gas.

      The second 400 foot stack I mentioned before was added in 1996 to include a GE scrubber system which uses anhydrous ammonia as the scrubbing agent producing valuable ammonium sulphate fertilizer instead of waste sulphur to be disposed of. This is the first commercial application of this technology patented by GE Environmental Systems, Inc.

      Neat! L.

    • And I was on the road again heading for Hazen where we camped for the night. But this time the wind was against me and I had to work to get up to the intersection at highway 200 which goes into Hazen.

      I'm very glad that you suggested this tour and I thank you. Without your encouragement I never would have gone to the extra trouble to take this once in a lifetime chance. I tried to get some other bicycle riders interested but none took me up on the suggestion. When I got to Hazen, I asked our hosts why they didn't offer to bring groups over and was told tours were not offered any more. But painted on the outside doors of the visitor center it says tours at 9:30, 10:30, 1PM and 2PM. And she also said very few people took the tours. Many I told about the tour and showed a great book they gave me on the whole place, said they wished they'd gone and some will probably make another trip later.

      Still, 57 miles on a bike Friday probably was enough for many of the riders. Hazen had a large swimming pool and other attractions, so it was a full day for many of the riders even without the tour and extra mileage (about 10 extra miles). I did take a ride on our first SAG bus going into Beulah to get me to the plant earlier than I would have been able to make it entirely by bike.

      And I loved that week of bike riding through hospitable little N. Dakota towns with 300 or so other bikers. I feel tanned and strong and healthy after that excellent week topped off with the synfuels plant tour. Back to the cars at Stevenson state park another 53 miles around the end of the lake on Saturday morning (the visitor center is not open on weekends).

      And so, back to Raven with earnings coming up around the 20th I believe. That's next Monday afternoon? Do I want to buy back some of those $75 ($37.5) calls I sold--just $.30 would probably get the November expiration ones. And Raven regularly surprises the market to the upside--but from $32 to $38 is about 20% with only this one earnings event intervening. Decisions, decisions.
      Best, L.

    • At current prices, the natural (synthetic gas) output which is about equivalent to a 28,000 barrel per day petrochemical plant (that figure was worked out by my guide on the fly so there could be some error) is unprofitable, but sale of CO2, ammonia and other byproducts led to a $19mm profit last year.

      The original owners went bankrupt and the complex was taken over by the department of energy about 1986 (first product was shipped in 1984). In 1988 the place was put up for bid, and Basin Electric bid $85mm which was sufficient to win the property. Of course they have been adding investment ever since. This summer they were building a second storage tank for anhydrous ammonia and it was large though I don't have any figures on top of my head. The rail yard is full of rail tankers, many with the DGCX label and I suspect several trains could be loaded from each of those tanks.

      There is a 205 miles 12-14inch pipeline taking CO2 up to the oil fields in Saskatchuwan (sp)for re-energizing. Operates at 2700 pounds maximum pressure, two compressor stations.

      Then sulphur from the stack scrubbers is added to make the ammonium sulphate fertilizer. A second stack 400 feet high was added a few years ago to incorporate higher efficiency cleaning/scrubbing systems. No obvious particulate matter coming out of the stacks that I could see. In fact, nothing coming out.

      The only large scale inputs to this whole process are coal, water (purified from the bottom of Lake Sakakawea--I vaguely remember that quantity being 660,000 gals per day; none of which is returned to the lake), and oxygen. In addition a number of catalysts like nickle from outside are used and methane which is produced at the plant and made into methanol.

      The basic gasification process is done in 14 large vertical tanks 40 feet high, 14 feet in diameter, and hanging at 170 tons empty. Those have provided the first breakdown of coal into heavy and lighter gases via a charge of coal being injected with steam and oxygen. While those 14 gasifiers have apparently never been replaced, they are taken out of service for repairs on a regular basis--I think only 12 or 13 we operating the day I was there.

      Because oxygen is taken from the air, nitrogen and other rare earth gases are part of the byproducts produced.

      If you wish to tour the plant, I'm sure they would prefer calling first. I just walked in and they said there was only one group schedule for a tour that day at 2PM. So I got an individual tour for 1 1/2 hours. But she did not encourage me to stay around after the formal tour was over and I got the idea that Ernie just spent hours in walking around and studying that model and all the various descriptive posters on the walls surrounding it. Lot's more information which I did not assimilate.

      Similar plants are in S. Africa and maybe one in Germany. Process was developed by German engineers for the WWII effort.
      Best, L.

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