A new plant to be built on the grounds of the Baldwin Energy Complex will turn coal ash into building materials. The plant is expected to employ more than 100 workers.
Nu-Rock Technology, based in Sydney, Australia, will operate the plant.
Ash left over from coal burned at the power plant will be used to make bricks, building blocks, pavers and other materials that company representatives say are stronger, lighter and cheaper than traditional concrete.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
Randolph County Commissioners unanimously approved a 100-percent county property tax abatement for five years to lure Nu-Rock.
The state of Illinois also approved EDGE tax credits for Nu-Rock. Those credits are given to offset state payroll taxes collected from new employees and are contingent on a company maintaining the new jobs and making capital investments.
“This project has many positive aspects for Randolph County,” said Christopher Martin, the county’s economic development coordinator. “First, Nu-Rock is creating more than 100 manufacturing jobs. Second, there will be dozens more transportation jobs created as the company trucks their products to customers in a 300-mile radius. Third, Nu-Rock’s manufacturing process is amazingly green. They will be using what is essentially waste to manufacture products that are aimed at revolutionizing the building, construction and civil engineering industries.”
Martin added that Nu-Rock’s commitment is big news because Illinois “has been losing manufacturing jobs in recent years and it has been difficult to attract new companies” to the state.
Dr. Marc Kiehna, chairman of the county’s Board of Commissioners, said officials and citizens in Randolph County are excited for the plant to get up and running.
“We’re sensitive to manufacturing jobs. That’s what makes our tax base,” Kiehna said.
Kiehna said the decline in coal prices and the idling of a power unit at the Baldwin Energy Complex have hit the county hard.
“We’re feeling the impact of what’s happening with energy production at Baldwin. It’s nice to have something happen there that’s good,” he said.
So, why Baldwin?
Dennis Chernov, a U.S.-based representative of Nu-Rock, said the plant there turns out good waste.
“They burn Powder River Basin coals which produce better ash quality,” he said, referring to the region in Wyoming known for coal that burns cleaner than high-sulfur local coal.
Coal ash as a building material is underutilized, Chernov said, noting that only around half of the coal ash generated in the United States “is beneficially used.” He said materials produced at the planned Baldwin site will be made almost entirely of ash.
“In regular concrete, you can have up to 8 to 9 percent of ash, which somewhat replaces the cement itself. In our products, it will be 95 percent of ash,” Chernov said. He added that the blocks Nu-Rock will produce are more than twice as strong as typical cinder blocks at about half the weight.
The first module of the plant is expected to come online in the second quarter next year, Chernov said. Nu-Rock’s top brass currently are in Germany buying the equipment the plant will use.
Chernov said that initial module could produce 75,000 tons of materials a year. Output could increase to more than 250,000 tons per year in three years, “depending on market acceptance.”
Status of power plant
Up to 122 jobs at the power plant were on the chopping block after Dynegy earlier this year announced two of the plant’s three power generating units would be shut down thanks to a power capacity auction that set prices too low for the plant to recover its operating costs.
The first of those units was idled last month, resulting in 64 layoffs. But the idling of a second unit that was set for March has been canceled.
Dynegy spokesman David Onufer said Nu-Rock’s commitment to build its plant at the Baldwin Energy Complex was not related to the mothballing of the power unit.
“However, the Nu-Rock agreement has the potential to create employment and economic opportunities for the local area. Those opportunities could possibly increase as the facility builds its customer base,” Onufer wrote in an email. “Dynegy’s goal is to safely recycle 100 percent of coal combustion byproducts for beneficial reuse by 2020. We’re 70 percent of the way there and the agreement with Nu-Rock puts us a step closer to achieving our objective.”