ThermoChem Inc., a Columbia high-tech company, announced yesterday that it has received an $18.5 million contract from the U.S. Department of Energy to demonstrate its state-of-the-art coal conversion machinery at a plant in Oregon.
Mark Rotundo, ThermoChem's controller, said the $18.5 million will go for design, manufacture and installation of the technology at a Weyerhaeuser Paper Co. plant in Springfield, Ore. Weyerhaeuser and other subcontractors, will spend another $18.5 million on the project, he said.
"The Department of Energy is helping us commercialize one of our clean-coal technologies," Mr. Rotundo said. "Now we'll have a proven commercial demonstration, which allows us to basically showcase our exclusive technology."
The technology, known as a "gasifier," is designed to allow Weyerhaeuser to use coal that has been transformed into hydrogen-rich gas and steam to power the plant, said John Becker, manager of marketing for ThermoChem.
Until now, the Weyerhaeuser plant -- which produces cardboard for paper cartons -- has relied on the burning of tree bark, known in the industry as "hog fuel," to produce gas and steam to help power the plant. However, this process is being phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency as a cause of acid rain.
If successful, the gasifier will be able to convert 429 tons of coal per day to gas and steam, Mr. Becker said.
Mr. Becker said the technology has the potential for widespread applications in the paper industry and also could be used to supply the gas needs of a number of other industries, as well as those of electric utilities.
ThermoChem Inc. is the commercialization arm of Manufacturing Technology Conversion International, also based in Columbia, the founders of which invented the gasifier technology.