Lexington, Kentucky, will host the 2022 CoalProTec conference. (Photo: Central Bank Center)

After a 4-year, COVID-19 induced hiatus, processing professionals will gather to discuss the latest in coal preparation

by steve fiscor, editor-in-chief

A springtime visit to Lexington, Kentucky, conjures up thoughts of blue grass, thoroughbred horse racing, mint juleps and, of course, coal preparation. For many years, an annual coal preparation conference supported by the Coal Preparation Society of America (CPSA) brought processing professionals and equipment service providers together during the Derby Season. In 2018, the CPSA relaunched and successfully hosted the event as CoalProTec, which was planned as a two-year event.

That frequency seemed appropriate at the time and then COVID-19 struck. The pandemic turned the world upside down. The CPSA tried to postpone the event and even considered relocating it to Charleston, West Virginia, but COVID-19 refused to give up its grip. This spring promises something different as they prepare to meet again face-to-face.

CPSA Executive Director Mel Laurila set the stage for 2022 CoalProTec expectations. “This is the first time it’s being held in four years, so there is palpable pent-up demand to reunite with industry peers again,” Laurila said. “We are really optimistic about what we expect to see at CoalProTec 2022. The conference will be hosted in a whole new facility, the Central Bank Center. It’s freshly renovated, big and beautiful.”

The Central Bank Center, formerly known as the Lexington Center, completed a $300 million renovation of the convention center in September. The facility, which adjoins Rupp Arena and served the region for 44 years, has now become one of the finest convention and meeting destinations, along with one of the premier sports and entertainment venues in the country, according to its owners.

Another noticeable improvement to the overall program, beyond the technical sessions, is the new exhibition area. “We now have enough space on the exhibit floor to host lunches and other events, so people do not have to leave the show floor unless they choose to do so,” Laurila said. “CPSA will hold its membership meeting in the new event area, electing new officers and discussing new business. We will also have sponsored lunches that will be available to all attendees. That will make a big difference for people, who would rather remain on the show floor.”

More than 70 companies will exhibit coal processing equipment and technology. “We have a handful of new exhibitors, but most of the exhibitors are familiar companies that have traditionally exhibited at this conference, and the previous Coal Prep events,” Laurila said. “One of the new exhibitors is Henkel Loctite and they are bringing a large display trailer, a 50-ft semi-tractor trailer with slide outs, on to the exhibit floor. It will be a multimedia experience geared toward their products and services for the mining industry. They are planning interactive displays with video demonstrations. Other conferences have done things like this in the past, but this is a first for us, so we will see how our attendees respond.”

Technical Sessions Second to None

For the processing professionals, CoalProTec offers a continuing education program with professional development hours. New to the program this year is a parallel mining track offered by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration’s Central Appalachian (SME CAPP) Section. The technical program has a soft start on Monday, April 25, with a set of full-day workshops designed to educate registrants about coal preparation (Coal Prep 101) and pumps (Pumps 101).

On Tuesday, April 26, CoalProTec officially kicks off with a keynote session at 9 a.m. Alliance Resource Partners President and CEO Joe Craft will deliver the keynote address. “Alliance is one of the largest thermal coal suppliers and Craft has his finger on the pulse of the industry,” Laurila said. “Attendees will hear a leading executive talking about the current situation with coal markets, what to expect down the road and how to respond to it.” After that session breaks, the exhibit hall opens.

More than 70 companies will showcase coal processing equipment and technology at CoalProTec 2022.

During the afternoon on Tuesday (2 p.m.-4 p.m.), CoalProTec will host a session on Advanced Coal Preparation Practices and Technologies, which will include speakers from CONSOL Energy, ARQ, Virginia Tech and Somerset International.

CPSA will host its Members Night Out on Tuesday evening at the Buffalo Trace bourbon distillery. “It seems like our membership really likes distilleries, and so we will meet in Giants Hall, which is a renovated gathering space for about 130 people,” Laurila said. “And, we will use that primarily as a networking event, of course, you’ll have the bourbon tours and tastings, hors d’oeuvres and a catered dinner with and a comedian/musician entertaining guests over dessert.

On Wednesday, April 27, CoalProTec offers two more educational sessions: Design and Operating Practices for Slurry Impoundments (9 a.m.-11 a.m.) and Processing Plant Modifications and Operations (2 p.m.-4 p.m.).

The technical session produced by the SME CAPP Section begins on Tuesday afternoon with a discussion of novel approaches to deriving other useful products from coal streams, such as rare earth elements and other carbon-based products. Similarly, they are offering two sessions on Wednesday: Underground Mine Stability and Dust Control (9 a.m.-11 a.m.) and Mine Automation and General Topics in Mining (2 p.m.- 4 pm.).

CPSA operates as a nonprofit organization and its primary mission is to educate the industry. During the COVID-19 lockdown period, when they couldn’t host the conference, they were forced to think outside the box like everyone else. “We continued with workshops, working under controlled environments, producing a couple a year at different locations,” Laurila said. “Soon we plan to produce quarterly webinars as part of CPSA’s continuing education efforts.”

The association also gives back to the coal community with scholarships and grants to students. CPSA recently renamed them as the Bill Kalb scholarships, in memory of a coal processing professional who was a driving force for this conference. “We have also transitioned from straight scholarships to research fellowships,” Laurila said. “We’ve recently increased the monetary value that we award to $7,500 a year to a couple of students. The ones that will be starting up this fall will be at Penn State and at the University of Kentucky. We believe Virginia Tech will probably become involved as well, but not until next year.”

CPSA is working in conjunction with mining companies to support these programs. This year, the Penn State research fellowship is co-sponsored by CONSOL Energy. Last year, the University of Kentucky fellowship was co-sponsored by Alliance Resource Partners. “We have direct industry involvement in these programs as far as oversight and mentoring,” Laurila said. “They propose a project, and then we accept it and give them a chance to conduct a full-fledged research project for the school year and see what comes of it. It’s great for the student and it could benefit the industry, depending on the outcome. The topic for the Penn Sates research fellowship, for example, is exploring some new fine coal washability methods and the laboratory method for determining washability for finer sizes.”

Like everyone else, Laurila said he is ready to put COVID-19 behind them and move on. He and CPSA are genuinely excited about finally being able to host CoalProTec again, especially in the remodeled venue. “For many of our attendees and members, this is a homecoming of sorts for the coal prep industry,” Laurila said. “It’s the one opportunity that they have to visit Lexington, catch up with their colleagues, see new equipment and technology, and learn a thing or two from the technical sessions.”