HOUSTON—Continental Carbon Co. is investing more than $60 million toward energy recovery projects at its three U.S. carbon black facilities that will generate steam for sale and convert energy to electricity.
The highlight of the commitment is a 10-year agreement with Valero Energy Corp. to supply the oil refiner with steam from Continental Carbon's Sunray, Texas, plant. The steam generated from tail gases produced from Continental Carbon's manufacturing process will be sent to Valero's nearby McKee Refinery via pipeline.
Up to 175,000 pounds per hour of steam will be provided to the Valero site beginning in November 2011, Continental Carbon said.
At the other two carbon black sites—in Ponca City, Okla., and Phenix City, Ala. —the company plans to recover energy derived from the production process and convert it to electricity via the building of power cogeneration facilities.
The project will make about 18 mega-watts of electrical power available on a continuous basis beginning in late 2011, said Continental Carbon President Kim K.T. Pan.
Together, the net reduction of greenhouse gas, of which carbon dioxide is a major component, is estimated to average more than 18,000 metric tons per year per plant at the three sites, he said.
The Houston-based firm believes energy recovery is an excellent investment, considering the rising costs for operating energy-intensive manufacturing plants in the U.S., Pan said. The main benefits include the conversion of energy which otherwise would be wasted into a revenue source via energy or power sales, and the ability for the company to be more self-reliant in steam and electrical power.
Being more self-reliant includes not being subject to external interruptions that cause periodic power failures which are highly damaging to a continuous manufacturing process such as carbon black production, Pan said. In effect, it reduces the usage of natural gas and electricity from external sources.
The Sunray project includes the design and construction of a customized boiler system that combusts production tail gas and generates steam.
It also requires adequate land, instrumentation, control systems, steel structures, piping and insulation, and delivery peripherals. For power co-generation, a turbine/generator set is necessary as well.
Naturally, there must be a buyer willing to pay a reasonable price for the steam and power being produced, and Valero's refinery uses a tremendous amount of steam in its various refining processes, Pan said. Purchasing the steam from Continental Carbon should offset and reduce the refiner's expenses in natural gas usage, boiler system maintenance and future capital expenditures, he said.
The Ponca City plant's management also is investigating the feasibility of similarly adding a steam generation system there and delivering steam to nearby users, the company said.
The electricity conversion projects will be used for internal operations in Ponca City and Phenix City, with any excess power sold to the local utility grid or other external customers, Pan said.
Continental Carbon in the past has been challenged in court over alleged damage caused by emissions from its Ponca City and Phenix City plants, including a finding against the company in 2004 of more than $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages from carbon black emitted at the Phenix City site.
The firm appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court level before the high court declined to hear its arguments in 2008.
Pan believes the company is making a “real, positive contribution to the betterment of our environment,” and the satisfaction derived comes from its commitment to achieving the goal of being the best in the carbon black industry.
“Continental Carbon has a long history of being a technology leader and an innovator,” he said. Spearheading the effort on the environmental, safety and health front is not a new or strange position for the company to assume.”