This spring, The Environmental Health and Safety division of the Office of Research and Graduate Studies completed the cleanup of the site of a future coal briquetting plant in Castle Gate, about 12 miles northwest of Price.

On November 20, 2006, Utah State University Eastern – formerly the College of Eastern Utah – acquired the old Willow Creek Mine, which had ceased operations in 2001 and was under the ownership of the Southeastern Utah Energy Producers Association. With the aid of a $2.75 million grant, USU Eastern acquired the property to start the Western Energy Training Center. The facility acquired by the university consisted of three buildings: an office building, a storage warehouse and a heavy equipment maintenance shop. The facility was used as a site to train students in mine safety, operation, and mine equipment maintenance until the program was discontinued in 2009.

In 2008, experimental processes were started in the heavy equipment shop to take waste coal dust from settling ponds at active mines and combine it with coal and coke breeze to form 6-inch cube briquettes. These briquettes are a constant temperature fuel and are convenient for use at industrial furnaces.

This experimental process had some success, but due to poor management it was discontinued and abandoned in 2011. When CEU merged with USU to form USU Eastern, professors Scott Hill, Director of the Energy Dynamics Laboratory, and Joel Peterson, Chancellor for USU Eastern, resurrected the coal briquetting idea. The usable equipment from the original process was rebuilt with considerable modifications and updates to create a functional operation.

From March 25-29, EHS contracted Veolia Environmental Services to clean and prepare the site for the Carbon Energy Innovation Center to assume testing of the waste coal briquetting pilot operation.

“This is a pilot plant, but if the technology proves to be useful it could lead to a full-scale plant on eastern edge of Price,” said Steven Bilbao, EHS director. “These are three very nice, very usable buildings.”

Four indoor storage tanks were cleaned and removed from the building. All of the internal piping lines to carry the petroleum products around the shop were removed. The floor drains and trench drains that moved waste water from the building to the sump were cleaned.

Each of the vertical tanks in the outside tank farm were evacuated of contents, including over 500 gallons of old diesel fuel, which was subsequently taken to USU Eastern campus for use. The residual materials in the tanks were cleaned to make the tanks ready for sale through the University Surplus Sales.

Liquid contaminants were pumped out of two settling ponds and containerized for later shipment as hazardous waste. The remaining coal, dust and dirt – along with garbage, debris, oils and greases – were excavated using a small skid steer. All of the settled waste was containerized and removed for disposal as a hazardous waste.

The remaining material and residuals were removed using a steam cleaner and a broom. The oil trap sump required special personal protective equipment, atmosphere testing, and emergency extrication equipment be installed before cleanup could be attempted. More than 10,000 gallons of wastewater and sludge were removed from the sump and placed in a faction tank and vacuum tanker for disposal as hazardous waste. On March 29, the site was deemed clean and the crews wrapped up the project.

Eric Jorgensen, assistant director of EHS, said the pilot plant will help USU develop coal briquetting technology that can eventually serve as a viable alternative energy source.

“Nobody has ever really thought it was worthwhile, but we see this becoming a patented process we can lease out,” Jorgensen said. “We are showing that there is plenty of coke breeze and coal dust from mines and plants in Emery and Carbon County, and it’s there just waiting to be used.”

-Seth Merrill, RGS Communications