By Lee Buchsbaum

One of the newest of the International Coal Group’s (ICG) mines, the ICG Beckley operation is a solid metallurgical producer.  Its major clean coal product is the increasingly rare, sought after Pocahontas  No. 3 low-volatile, high quality metallurgical coal.  The Pocahontas No. 3 seam clean coal quality (dry basis) averages 6.5% ash, 16.75% volatiles, a free swelling index of 8.5, and only 0.8% sulfur.  The mine has a reserve base of approximately 31 million tons over a property boundary of more than 20,000 acres.

Though only a few years old, ICG Beckley is actually the third operation to mine the area with the upper two coal seams having been extracted throughout the 20th Century. The current project was originally initiated in 1981 by the Westmoreland Coal Co. as part of its Triangle Complex but construction was idled due to market conditions. In 2005, ICG gained control of the reserves through the acquisition of Anker Energy and promptly decided to complete development of the property.

Westmoreland had started the slope and completed one of the two shafts when it walked away in the 1970s, so ICG finished that work and connected everything up. In 2007, ICG began moving toward full operation. Beginning with one section, production has incrementally been ramping up since. Underground, Beckley is currently operating three dual sections and they are aiming toward a production level of 1.2 million tons per year (tpy) of clean coal. The mine currently has 280 employees with 28 at the prep plant.

Beckley’s “dual sections” are really super sections with two miners on each section using split ventilation so they both operate simultaneously. Mining at a depth of 700 to 1,300 feet, seam height ranges from 48 to 70 inches. “Though we generally operate in the 60- to 65-inch range. We develop a higher entry on the mains for the long term ventilation requirements and you do less on the panels, but that’s the range,” said Steve Hatfield, manager of technical services, ICG Beckley. The mine is running Joy 14CM15s continuous miners in each of the sections. Two sections have Bucyrus Ram Cars, the third section has Joy shuttle cars.

Beckley’s coal is shipped to various domestic and international steel producers. “Because of the well known high quality of the Pocahontas No. 3, we have no problem marketing it,” said Jay Ramsey, preparation plant superintendent, ICG Beckley. The mine is rail served by CSX though NS borders the property as well.

History and Design Strategy of the Prep Plant
By the time the prep plant opened in December 2007, ICG’s workforce had logged many long hours and late nights to complete the project. “We worked hard to finish before the end of the year,” said Ramsey. Since it began operating, the plant has processed 4.2 million tons of raw coal. The plant’s raw feed capacity is 600 tons per hour (tph) and the yield at the plant is approximately 43% plus or minus 3%. 

The design of any new coal prep plant is governed by the raw coal washability of that particular mine’s seam collection. “The Pocahontas No. 3 size as well as quality determines the yield you’ll attain. Knowing this enables you to size the equipment for the plant properly,” said Bill Peters, director of coal processing at ICG. The Beckley plant’s primary circuit is for met production. It also employs a secondary circuit for middlings production. The heavy-media plant has basically four cleaning stages: a vessel, cyclone circuits, banks of spirals, and conventional flotation. Magnetite and water are recovered and recycled.

Beckley’s average met product is 6.5% ash but the plant can wash down to approximately 5.8% ash depending on a customer’s specific requirements. The middlings generally have an ash of around 17%, but they only represent 1.8% to 2% of the total of what ICG processes through the plant. Middlings production increases as the prep plant creates more amounts of low ash met coal. Generally, if the overall ash content of a shippable product is 9%, the plant produces no middlings. Greater amounts of middlings are created as the plant washes below 6.5%.

The late former plant superintendent Basil McKinney also helped design the middlings circuit. He passed away before ICG Beckley was in production but was present to set the first construction bolt on the first column on the plant. But because of his efforts, the prep plant is able to recover its higher ash middlings, a valuable product used for blending purposes or for additional steam sales. It may be only a small fraction of total production, but it contributes significantly to the overall bottom line.

To ensure maximum production, ICG did a thorough reconnaissance of the entire area, sampling its coal reserves multiple times. The company developed a flow sheet and determined the parameters for an optimum circuit. “This coal is very friable therefore we use a gravity type system and that’s one of the reasons the plant is so tall,” said Peters. The preparation plant was constructed to a height of 150 feet or 10 stories.

The Coal Wash Cycle
Raw coal travels out of Beckley’s 2,600-ft mine slope on a 3,000 tph 60-inch belt and can either be sent up to a 7,800-ton raw coal silo or bypassed to emergency ground storage at the transfer building. From the silo, minus 4-inch x 0 raw coal travels up a 760-ft long, 36-inch belt up an 18˚ plant feed conveyor to a Tabor 10 x 20-ft double deck raw coal screen. “We take 100% of this raw feed and segregate it out by size fraction and wash it to get optimum yield,” said Peters.

The raw coal screens create several raw feed splits dependent upon size. The plus 3/8-inch coal fraction reports to a Daniels heavy-media vessel. The minus 3/8-inch x 0 reports to a 10- x 20-ft deslime screen. From there the plus 16 mesh reports to two 26-inch primary, heavy-media cyclones. “We use a multiple slope Tabor banana screen, 10- x 20-ft double-deck and a 10 x 20-ft single deck,” said Peters. The heavy-media vessel and cyclones use magnetite to raise the specific gravity of the water to the point where coal floats. Then the clean coal product reports to the clean coal drain-and-rinse (D&R) screens. The reject reports to the refuse belt. All of Beckley’s screens are manufactured by the Tabor Machine Co., located at Brush Fork, W.Va.

The 3/8-inch by 16-mesh coal reports to a heavy media pulping column and gravity feeds to two 26-inch Krebs heavy media cyclones. Throughout the plant, Allen Bradley PLCs and nuclear density gauges help maintain density control. 

The raw coal deslime screen (minus 1 mm x 0) product reports to a raw coal sump and is then pumped to six 15-inch raw coal classifying cyclones; where, the plus 100 mesh fraction reports to spirals.

The 1 mm x 100 mesh reports to the spirals, while the minus 100 mesh reports to a bank of WEMCO conventional flotation cells. “We recover the product, and dewater with screen bowl centrifuges,” said Peters. For the most part, ICG Beckley uses Krebs cyclones.

The plus 2-inch clean coal is sized to minus 2-inch with a McLanahan black diamond crusher; while the minus 2-inch x 16 mesh product reports to CMI centrifugal dryers.  Clean coal is belted to the stockpiles to be reclaimed and loaded onto a unit train. 

The ICG Beckley plant dewaters its finer clean coal product (minus 16 mesh x 0) with two Decanter 44 x 132 screen bowl centrifugal dryers.  The 1 mm x 100 mesh fines are processed in two banks of 10-SX 7 triple start Multotec spirals.  The spirals separate coal from the waste using gravity and centrifugal force. The heavier rock settles along the inside of the curve and the streams are isolated at the bottom. The fine clean coal reports to two banks of Conn-Weld two-stage 10-ft sieve bends.  The product then reports to these two screen bowl centrifuges manufactured by Decanter Machine Co.

Overflow from the raw coal classifying cyclones, 100-mesh x 0, reports to the two banks of four 500-ft3 WEMCO conventional froth cells. ICG Beckley uses frother and collector chemicals to enhance floatation of the remaining fine coal. The coal (froth) is collected by paddles and sent to a launder which feeds it into these screen bowl centrifuges.  The flotation tailings report to a WesTech thickener where the water is clarified and recycled. 

The middlings are an independent processing circuit consisting of one 26-inch Krebs cyclone, a Tabor D&R screen, an Eriez magnetic separator and Warman pumps.  It’s ICG Beckley’s secondary heavy media cyclone circuit. “We rewash the refuse that comes off the vessel circuit and the primary heavy media cyclone circuit,” said Peters. The middlings are routed to another Tabor D&R screen and then onto the middlings product belt for storage in a separate clean coal stockpile.  This middlings product ash ranges between 16-18% and can be used for blending or sold to the domestic steam market.

ICG Beckley has five different circuits essentially, a heavy-media vessel, a primary and a secondary heavy-media cyclone circuits, spirals and a floatation circuit in this plant. The amount of
middlings increases as the ash content decreases.  It has the capabilities of satisfying met coal customers worldwide with low-vol met coal at a multiple range of product ash.

Batch Weigh Loadout Facility
A Kanawha Scales & Systems batch weigh loadout system enables ICG Beckley to meet CSX flood loading requirements. Using a 4,000 tph loadout with a two-stage McLanahan sampling system and
an electronic card reader, ICG Beckley can load a 75 car unit train in 2.25 hours. The batch weigh loadout is equipped with a 300-ton surge bin and a 125 ton batch weigh hopper.  Unit train loading of each rail car at 4,000 tph takes approximately 2 minutes each; but requires only 15 seconds to refill the weigh bin hopper for the next rail car to be loaded.  The consistency of uniform loading of each railcar is provided by the design of the batch weight bin discharge chute and the controlled speed by the CSX train engineer.  The loadout is automated by using fiber optics and PLC controls to optimize train loading times while requiring a minimum of personnel.

The mine averages about three trains per week but train loading is complicated by the fact that the rail spur is on a 2% grade, and ICG Beckley loads directly on the CSX mainline. Trains are usually equipped with distributed locomotive power which not only aids in loading, but eliminates the need for engines to run around to the head end. With increased technology, ICG Beckley can load cars to within plus or minus 500 lb of target weight.

Standardization and Utilization of the Latest Technology
The ICG Beckley plant uses Allen Bradley PLCs throughout—the very latest technology and the newest on the market. But employing system-wide standardization throughout the plant makes continuous processing “easier” to achieve, said Steve Bjork, prep plant maintenance chief, ICG Beckley.  Additionally, since the plant cleans only one seam of coal, the operators are tracking the plant’s internal cycle allowing them to predict maintenance projects.

With a comprehensive list of the standardized parts and their locations, repairs and maintenance is not only easier, but more likely to be anticipated. The prep plant also uses pre-engineered high density polyethylene piping (HDPE pipes) throughout the facility. “I have the dimensions right at my fingertips. All of the pipes are pre-engineered so that when we have wear, we can remove sections and replace it exactly. There’s virtually no guesswork that way,” said Bjork.

So far, the real maintenance has been limited to two different pump rebuilds. Beckley uses the new FXU Warman pumps throughout the facility. These types of pumps were selected as part of a plan for maximizing standardization.

Starting with a brand new facility has made it simple to stick to good practices from the beginning. “Because it’s coal, you’re going to have some wear. But since this coal is so soft, there’s very little wear on the clean coal side,” said Bjork. “I track hours on every piece of equipment in that plant, from my heavy equipment down to the pumps, screens and dryers. I log in the hours once a week and then I can look back in that log book and forecast what will need to be repaired and when,” said Bjork. Peters and Ramsey also credit Jim Frederick in ICG’s IT department for developing the tracking system.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years. This facility is state-of-the-art,” Bjork said. “You’re going to have maintenance on a plant. You’re either going to do it when you want to do it or when it wants to do it. And, when it wants to do it is not a good time to be doing it because it’ll cost you additional money.”

Using the latest system available, preventative maintenance is a simple as keeping good records and having a few spare parts on hand. “That’s my philosophy and so far it’s worked,” said Bjork.

Getting to this point, Ramsey said, takes three main components: “One, we have good people here. Two, we employ the latest in technology and best practices. And three, we work for a company that cares and listens to your input.”

Award Winning Plant and Facility:
The Greenlands Award

The crew at ICG Beckley is justifiably proud to talk about their winning the Greenlands Award, a recognition of their community involvement efforts. Awarded only once a year by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), it recognizes excellence in environmental protection and performance in the design, construction and operation of a coal mining complex. WVDEP inspectors must recommend an operation for them to be considered for the award.

In developing the mine, ICG removed and processed a pre-law refuse dump as well as completing the restoration of an affected stream as part of a mitigation project. “That was part of the Green-lands award. We also established a community advisory panel, or CAP. It is a group of 20 to 30 residents and people in the area who meet once a month to discuss projects and ideas. We listen to any complaints they may have, and use this as an opportunity to address community concerns and get their input,” said Hatfield.

CAP also steers ICG’s community related projects including assistance for construction on a little league ball field and partnering with the WVDOH to do some paving and guardrail installation in the surrounding community.

Safety and Best Practices
Semi-annually, ICG managers participate in a “Best Practices” program involving surface, underground and coal preparation issues. In 2009, the program was expanded to include fire prevention and protection training.

“We’ve always been taught to prevent fires and what your basic policies are if a fire occurs. But what about after a fire occurs?” said Ramsey. Each month ICG sends several employees to the MSHA mine academy to participate in fire fighting training and fire fighting exercises. “A lot of these guys have never had a fire extinguisher in their hands.

We do preparatory training and gain some firefighting experience without having one actually occur. Education and training are both key components
to minimize accidents and maintain a safer working environment. The training we’ve done has opened a lot of eyes,” said Ramsey.

Buchsbaum is a Denver-based freelance writer and photographer specializing in industrial subjects. He can be reached through his Web site at or by phone at 303-746-8172.