"In April 2007, the EPA issued an air permit for the construction of Secure Energy's proposed gasification plant in Decatur, Illinois. The proposed plant will convert up to 1.4 million tons per year of high-sulfur Illinois coal into pipeline quality natural gas. In January 2007, the company purchased a 24-acre site and coal-burning building from Caterpillar Inc. The purchased land and building were part of the Decatur Caterpillar complex, which still houses a 25 year old boiler that has never been used."
Some equipment was moved in (read about that below), but pretty much nothing was ever done with the plant except for the painting of a nice American flag.
March 11, 2009 •
The 60-foot-long cylindrical gasifiers are 14 feet wide and weigh 220 tons each. Lying on their sides on railcars next to two similarly shaped but smaller feeders, they look like giant rocket stages from the days of the Apollo moon shots.
St. Louis-based Secure Energy said it's not shooting for the stars but aiming for the future of American energy independence. The gasifiers, parked near the 28-acre Secure Energy site behind the Caterpillar Inc. plant, will chemically convert 1.3 million tons of Illinois coal a year into 21 billion cubic feet of synthetic natural gas - enough to fuel 275,000 homes.
"So, on a yearly basis, more than 275,000 Illinois residents can count on having a domestic supply of clean-burning natural gas from our plant," said Jack Kenny, Secure Energy co-founder.
The question now is when the gas will start flowing. With the world's financial markets paralyzed and investors sitting on the sidelines, Secure Energy must store its gasifiers and look to the government to provide the financial spark needed to ignite the project.
The company has applied for $647 million in Department of Energy loan guarantees, which means the faith and credit of the government would back Secure Energy's debt. Even better, according to Kenny, is a provision that would allow the company to apply to something called the Federal Financing Bank to actually receive the money.
The government has set aside $8 billion in loan guarantees for advanced gasification projects, and the financial resources are being chased by eight rival applicants with funding requests that total more than $17 billion. But Secure Energy said none of the competition is as far advanced as their project: The company has its site, a pipeline connection deal and a contract to sell its gas to BP Canada Energy Marketing Co. already in the bag.
Secure Energy expects to hear the government's decision by July. If it gets the green light, it will take about 2½ years to build the gas plant.
"We're the only guys shovel-ready," Kenny said. "The Obama administration has been underscoring energy independence through solar, wind, biodiesel and clean coal. We believe, as far as clean coal, that energy independence starts in Decatur, Illinois."
The gasifiers, regarded as state of the art, arrived Monday having traveled by ship, barge and rail from Germany, where they were built by the giant Siemens company. Secure Energy won't reveal their cost because of contract terms but said the total bill is in "multiples of tens of millions of dollars."
In operation, the gasifiers, with coal feeder units on top, will be positioned upright in a yet-to-be-built structure that will be 190 feet tall. Conveyors and machines will supply them with coal crushed to the consistency of black talcum power, which they will turn into 67 million cubic feet of gas a day.
"Oh, man, this is so exciting," said Gary Crull, environmental director for Secure Energy, standing in the shadow of the gasifiers Tuesday. "This is the future."
Secure Energy says construction of its plant will generate 330 union jobs and running the facility will create 86 full-time jobs. It also estimates that the plant's coal appetite will support up to 140 mining jobs, and delivering the coal will generate 90 trucking jobs.