Raleigh County Commissioner Ron Hedrick shares his five-year plan to make West Virginia- and specifically Raleigh County- a lead producer of coal-based fertilizer.
According to Hedrick, a company out of Bluefield called ENGLO has partnered with professors and engineers at Mississippi State and George Washington University, where they have developed, tested and patented products made with West Virginia coal. Prior to partnering with Mississippi State and George Washington University, ENGLO was a company focused specifically on dust management.
Hedrick shared that the company and the universities’ engineers have found a way to take coal and turn it into a char, which can be mixed with chemicals to create fertilizer.
Scientists say that when it rains, 40 percent of regular, nutrient-rich fertilizer runs into the streams and pollute the water because of its high content of Nitrogen and Phosphorus. This can negatively affect aquatic life and cause harmful algal blooms (HABS), which occurs when colonies of algae grow out of control and produce toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals and even birds.
Coal-based fertilizer, which stays in the ground longer than other fertilizers, will not pollute the water because it is made mostly from a natural element. Additionally, when some of the coal-based fertilizer does eventually run into the streams, it will act as a water filter, carrying out present contaminants with it.
In 2019, Hedrick connected with the president of ENGLO and asked him to consider putting a factory in Raleigh County.
“Our goal is to plant the seed here first,” Hedrick stated. “They are using West Virginia coal, so if we can get that supply line up, they wouldn’t have any reason to go anywhere else.”
Before the pandemic, Hedrick, ENGLO, and several other major players in the project met for a briefing where ENGLO agreed to move forward in searching for a concept factory location in Raleigh County.
However, these plans had to be postponed during the summer and fall as COVID continued to intensify in the United States.
On Tuesday, Dec. 8, the team held a reboot meeting at the courthouse, which included all the original team members, as well as the mayor of Beckley and the director of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority.
Hedrick stated that the meeting allowed everyone to refocus and get back on track to begin factory planning.
What’s next? According to Hedrick, engineers with Mississippi State are developing the layout for the concept factory, which should be completed by spring.
Once the design is finalized, the team will go to existing and vacant facility locations in Raleigh County to see which one best fits the layout. The team has already located four factories that meet the engineer’s initial requirements.
The team thinks the concept factory can produce one ton of product a day.
“We want to hit the ground running and are making plans now to move forward with this project,” Hedrick told Lootpress. “With the concept factory, we can produce a lot of product and get that into the hands of growers, who will see a viable product. Then, we can build a larger factory to mass-produce.”
“We have to figure out ways to use coal other than just burning it. If we have coal here, why not build a factory to use for alternative methods,” he continued. “Coal had always been labeled as ‘dirty,’ but this is a green product. We are taking coal and turning it into something that grows. We are changing the label.”
The commissioner says that this endeavor could help sustain employment for current coal miners, create new job opportunities in West Virginia, and even appeal to international buyers.
In addition to the coal-based fertilizer, engineers at Mississippi State and George Washington University have also developed a water-filtration product that can be laid down underneath soil and a coal-based pellet that is said to burn cleaner than wood pellets.
Hedrick hopes to get these products and others on the market in the future.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to show them what we can offer and had to offer,” Hedrick said. “I wanted to express the willingness this community and state has to attract something like this.”