Seeing prices and demand increase, operators invest in prep plant upgrades

by steve fiscor, editor-in-chief

The recent spike in demand and prices for metallurgical-grade coals has breathed new life into parts of the U.S. coalfields. That trend is evident in this year’s U.S. Prep Plant Census, as coal companies position themselves to meet the met market demand.

The 2021 U.S. Prep Plant Census identifies a total of 227 prep plants, 210 processing bituminous coal and 17 processing anthracite. A total of 71 bituminous prep plants are currently sitting idle, which puts the number of active bituminous plants at 139, compared to 138 last year. Two prep plants were added (one active and one idle), seven active plants were listed as idle and six plants were removed. Knowing that some prep plants may reopen and that permits remain active in some states, Coal Age lists prep plants in the census until they are scrapped.

West Virginia leads with 45 active bituminous prep plants, followed by Kentucky (32), Pennsylvania (17), Virginia (13), Illinois (9) and Alabama (7).

Some new names entered the scene this year, including Iron Senergy and Allegiance Coal, and Contura Energy changed its name to Alpha Metallurgical Resources as it sold thermal assets and transitioned to a pure-play met producer.

Restoration and Rationalization

Ramaco Resources announced it acquired the Amonate assets from Coronado Global Resources, which are contiguous to its Berwind mine. The $30 million deal included approximately 50 million tons of low- and mid-volatile reserves (accessible from the Berwind mine), several permitted mines and the idled 1.3-million-ton-per-year Amonate prep plant in Virginia.

The company said mine development on the Amonate reserves will begin immediately. Initial production is expected early in the second quarter of 2022, with total new incremental production for the entire year at approximately 200,000 tons. This will increase to approximately 700,000 tons at full production capacity by the end of 2023.

Ramaco also plans to immediately refurbish the Amonate prep plant, with a goal of 50% capacity by June 2022. Originally designed with a 600-ton-per-hour (tph) raw feed capacity, Ramaco said it plans to achieve nameplate capacity by the end of 2022. Capital expenditure for the preparation plant upgrade is expected to be approximately $2 million in 2021, $6 million in 2022 and $2 million in 2023.

Allegiance Coal purchased the New Elk mine in Colorado and restarted operations this year. They implemented a number of prep plant improvements, including an upgrade to a 3-meter belt press and an improved rake system for the thickener. The plant is using larger spiral sets equipped with Derrick stack-spray systems. Allegiance also installed a new Eriez magnetic separator and cameras to ensure the control room operator could see all the critical areas of the plant.

Allegiance also announced it purchased the idled Short Creek mine and prep plant along with additional coal reserves from Drummond Co. for $15.9 million. The company said it plans to restore the plant and convert the property from open pit to underground mining. The Short Creek prep plant was added to the Alabama section as idle for now.

Iron Senergy purchased the Cumberland and Emerald assets from Alpha Metallurgical Resources. The Cumberland mine remains active and operating. Iron Senergy reported it was currently decommissioning the Emerald plant and it was removed from the census.

Arch Resources recently commissioned the Leer South longwall mine and it expanded the raw feed capacity of its Sentinel prep plant to 1,600 tph from 600 tph to process the additional tons from Leer South. The company also confirmed four idled plants have been demolished, including three plants in West Virginia, the Baybeck, Eastern and Sawmill Run facilities, and the Dobbin Ridge prep plant in Maryland.

u.s. prep plant census 2021 chart