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One Local Business is Attempting to Change the Perception of Coal

(Gillette, Wyo.) Just north of Interstate 90, the site of the Fort Union mine has sat dormant for several years. Last summer, Atlas Carbon moved in and began setting up a never-before seen way of processing coal in to activated carbon. You already use activated carbon every day -- it's in your water filters, your Brita pitchers, your fish tank -- even if you think you don't use it on a personal level. It's cleaning the environment, filtering emissions from power plants, and cleaning our drinking and waste water in treatment facilities all across the country. 18,000 cities use activated carbon in some form every day. That creates an important bridge between the stigma of coal as a "dirty" source of energy and very real environmental concerns. Coal can be clean. It *is* clean: it's what's cleaning our environment every day. "We can do more things with coal that are good for the country. We shouldn't just quit on coal," said Jim Ford, vice president of Atlas Carbon and a life-long Gillette resident. "Our little project is an example of a value added product that can come from it." Their "project" is a patented process called the Pneumatic Flash Calciner. Previously -- *very* previously, like since Roman times -- major companies like Calgon and Cabot Norrit make activated carbon by "cooking" it in a furnace or a kiln. It's a process that takes up to 6 hours for others. Atlas can do the same thing in a matter of seconds. https://youtu.be/Z4Gd9kOOS54 *The pneumatic flash calciner at work. It's the one unique feature of the Atlas Carbon work yard. * It's the first major change to the industry in 50 years, and it's completely unique to this local company. "There's not another plant like this one anywhere on the planet," Ford says. "This whole plot of land is a fixer-upper, but we're okay with that. We're going to make good use of it. We love this location. We're in the heart of coal country." Currently the plant is in the testing stages; they hope to have a grand opening in the spring. Their first shipment of activated carbon left last Thursday bound for Nebraska. A second truckload went out to Arizona the next day. All of it is destined for power plants, except for one small shipment to a water treatment facility in Laramie. Their major business will be to power plants at first, to filter out the mercury being released by coal combustion. "This is a big deal to the power plants, because if they can't comply with the stringent mercury regulations, they don't get to run," explained Ford. [image: coalpowder.jpg] *Turning rocks in to sponges: 3 inch chunks of coal are milled down to a fine powder like beach sand, or an even finer powder like makeup -- depending on the client's needs -- to be processed.* But eventually Atlas hopes to move in to more municipal applications, cleaning not just your air, but your water. There are nuances to the way every company works towards meeting their own standards, so Atlas has to pass the initial test of whether or not their activated carbon is going to be right for a specific plant's application. Right now, it's about running the PFC and building up their profile. It takes just 8 employees to operate as it is now. By the end of this year they plan to build a second PFC, and expand their workforce as well. Atlas has taken the remains of a dying coal mine and given it new life. They've even repurposed parts of the coal handling facilities, using the crushers, conveyers, load outs, storage, maintenance shop, water system, milling shops, and offices that were already here to suit their purpose. It looks no different than a cement plant or grain elevator except for the calcinator. [image: 20160122_110040.jpg] "All of the nuts and bolts and pipes is about managing a thermal chemical reaction. That's what we have, a big chemistry set," explains Ford. The plant will be fully operational in six weeks. The need for activated carbon is already here, and Atlas hopes to expand rapidly when people see how efficient they've made creating the product. "With coal, the government knows we have to be ready to move in to the next era, but there's nothing they can really do to help. They have to get out of way and let the industry lead. Let smart people do the things they can do best." #county17 #news #bootstrapped -- *Brenda Kirk* Community Maven for County17.com brenda@pitchengine.com | 614.940.7121 Twitter | Instagram | Facebook PitchEngine™ | *Connecting Communities*http://pitchengine.com | Twitter | Facebook