CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A piece of Belle DuPont plant's history will be dismantled in the coming weeks.
In the late 1920s, engineers at the plant discovered a way to save energy while producing ammonia, said Jim O'Connor, plant manager. They figured they could use gravity to feed water into the system through a series of pipes running down a hill outside the plant.
So they set workers to building a pipeline system consisting of two sections of four pipes, each a little over 1,000 feet long, up the 700-foot-tall hillside. The pipeline opened in 1930, O'Connor said.
The water was sent down the hillside, where distance and gravity combined to raise the water pressure from about 100 pounds per square inch to about 450 pounds per square inch.
The water then was used in the ammonia manufacturing process to de-gas the material. Momentum from the water's journey down the hill then forced it back up the incline, where it was de-gassed, O'Connor said.
The water picked up dissolved gases produced from the manufacturing process, he said. The water was recycled from the bottom of the hill to its top, with more being siphoned from the Kanawha River when the liquid began to evaporate.
The process of using the hill to build momentum in order to increase the pounds per square inch was a "quite the engineering accomplishment," even by today's standards, because it resulted in a 70 percent energy savings in the ammonia manufacturing process, O'Connor said.
"I've heard this process has been used in textbooks through the years as an example of how to take advantage of natural land features to help with a process," he said.
The system, which was the main function of the DuPont plant in the Upper Kanawha Valley during that era, was shut down in the 1950s, O'Connor said.
And although the company still uses ammonia, it is shipped in from facilities on the Gulf Coast, he said.
Since the pipeline system has not been needed for several decades, officials with the company have opted to dismantle it.
Employees with the company will dismantle the system, which stretches over 1,000 feet from plant to hilltop, and also disassemble the rail line that ran from the plant to the top of the hill, O'Connor said.
The rail line was used to haul men and material from the plant to the top of the hill where the water was de-gassed, he said.
The metal from the pipeline and rail line will be recycled into other uses, O'Connor said. He emphasized that the pipeline would not have held any ammonia residue because it has been inactive since the 1950s.
"Everything about that pipe is perfectly safe," he said.
The company will take public safety into consideration, not because of any danger of ammonia residue, but because they will be dismantling large steel pipe from the hillside above U.S. 60 in Belle.