Board reviews proposal for coal coking facility at energy training center
A company that creates coking coal wants to set up an operation at the Western Energy Training Center.
The company is not only willing to rent the space at the facility, but will allow students who want to learn the technology and operations involved in the coking coal process.
"This would be a good thing for WETC," pointed out College of Eastern Utah president Ryan Thomas during a recent board of trustees meeting at the center. "Our most critical need is not to produce someone who is trained on a specific piece of equipment, but on entire processes. A plant such as this would provide an on site lab for students to work with processes."
The adage advising people to worry more about being employable rather than employed appeared to be the theme of officials at the meeting.
"We want courses taught here that prepare students directly for the workforce," said WETC director Steve Burge. "We want to put students in the position that they can be trained and work in many places in the energy industry."
According to information distributed at the meeting, the energy industry in Utah employed 13,277 people in Utah during 2005.
The employment growth in the field from 2001-2005 was more than 10 percent and that was before the energy boom with increased energy costs really kicked in.
In 2005, the average worker in the energy industry earned over $70,000 per year.
"There would be a lot of benefits to having that operation located in one of our buildings," said Burge. "The operation would be using some new processes that haven't been done on a large scale in the United States. Because of the uniqueness of this we could also qualify for some large grants. There is a lot of interest by many people in this because there is virtually no coke being produced in the United States right now."
Coke is a material derived from the distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal. Many of the constituents of the coal, including water, coal-gas and coal-tar, are driven off during the process by baking coal in an oven at temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees so that the components of the coal are fused together. Coke is used as the main fuel in ironmaking blast furnaces, and therefore is important in making steel.
The idea of having a coking plant right with the educational facility ties in directly with a program that is presently just getting started at WETC and one that will produce a degree that is delivered to students no where else; a degree in energy process technology.
"This will be the first degree in the nation of its kind," said Bob Topping, the training director at WETC. "Energy development and production includes three basic fields; construction, transportation and processing. We want to concentrate on all of them, and this processing degree will be part of that."
According to WETC documents an energy process technician is a contributor to a team of people who are responsible for planning, analyzing, controlling and troubleshooting operations in the production of energy products. According to those at WETC there are basic skills that can be taught that will teach a student to work across industry lines, whether it be in coal, oil, gas or any other source of energy.
The area of energy processing is one of the disciplines that will be most needed in the near future. Presently over 50 percent of the workers in that area of expertise are over 50 years old, and many will retire in the next few years.
"The whole idea is to expand the labor pool in this area of energy production, there just aren't a lot of people to handle it," said Topping.
The board also received a program map from Topping that spelled out the goals and end results such a program would hold for students. Courses on general and specific process technology, process troubleshooting, lean manufacturing, decision making, quality and finance would be added to a basic set of educational classes that include chemistry, earth sciences, math and other foundation skills.
"This entire program is not only about knowing, it is also about doing. When students come out of this program they will understand why things are done and will also know how to do it," concluded Topping.