Officials say plant is 'manna from heaven'
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Thursday called Carbonyx International USA a "visionary company" that could help reverse a long history of state resources being ripped from the ground and shipped off for the profit of out-of-state coal barons.
Tomblin and state Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette officially welcomed the Texas-based company, which plans to build a new carbon alloy plant in Jackson County next year, during a press conference at the state Capitol Thursday morning.
Carbonyx is purchasing 56 acres of land currently owned by Century Aluminum near Ravenswood to build a plant that will use a proprietary process to create a coal-based substitute for coke, the key ingredient used to manufacture steel.
The company plans to build the plant in phases, the first of which will be constructed within two years and result in 60 permanent jobs. Officials hope to grow the plant even further over the next five to seven years, eventually investing more than $250 million and creating an additional 200 jobs.
The news was especially sweet for those local officials in Jackson County, which has fallen on hard times since the closure of the Century Aluminum smelter in 2009.
Ravenswood Mayor Michael Ihle said the Carbonyx announcement, combined with last week's announcement of the potential Odebrecht ethylene cracker and plastics plants in neighboring Wood County, has quickly made it a very exciting time in his town.
"It's manna from heaven," Ihle said. "It's good to hear good news -- it's long overdue."
In addition to the local jobs, the plant will also open up a new market for the state's metallurgical coal, most of which now goes overseas to foreign coke producers.
Should the full expansion occur over the next seven years, the plan could use more than 1.75 million tons of West Virginia-mined metallurgical coal on an annual basis.
"My vision is of a West Virginia where we continue to unlock the full potential of our resources," Tomblin said.
He also hopes it will reverse the trend from the last century, when state coal was extracted, hauled off and sold for the profit of out-of-state companies and executives.
"We let coal, for many years, get away from us," Tomblin said. "What I want to see is our natural resources being used here -- that's what creates jobs and that's what creates wealth in West Virginia."
Traditional coke making is a dirty process, creating massive pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
However, Carbonyx uses a proprietary, environmentally friendly process to produce what it calls Cokonyx, a synthesized replacement for traditional coke.
Burdette said bringing the company and this process to the state was an "incredibly significant recruitment."
"We're going to show the world how it's done," he said. "We're going to show them that you can use coal in an environmentally friendly way and change the economy of this country."
West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney called the new plant a "building block" that could demonstrate to the world that West Virginia can be a leader in effective and efficient use of natural resources.
"This is the maximum use of West Virginia coal," Raney said. "These new processes are going to demonstrate what we've been saying all along: West Virginians know how to do it."
Gaur said the company was attracted to the state not only because of its natural resources but also because of the leadership and attitude shown by its government from Tomblin down to local Jackson County officials.
"From Day 1 when I stepped into the state ... each and every one (of them) put every step forward in the best possible way to walk the extra mile to get this project to where it's at," he said.
"I'm glad to be here and what a wonderful new home you have given to our carbon alloy facility."
Early Thursday, the state Economic Development Authority approved a 10-year, $15 million low-interest loan package to Carbonyx to help the company finance the purchase of its initial round of equipment.
Burdette said this would likely be the only round of special financing for the company. He said the company would likely finance its later expansions on its own.
Carbonyx plans to break ground at the Millwood site next spring. Gaur said it should take 18 months to 2 years after the groundbreaking to have the plant fully up and running.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.