Day in the Sun (Coke)

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 30, 2005

HAVERHILL - One thing all parents have in common is they like to show off new additions to their family.

Thursday, Sun Coke Company and its parent company, Sunoco, Inc. put the newest addition to the corporation on display: the Haverhill North Coke Company.

And company officials said if all goes well, they could break ground on a plant addition by the end of the year.

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The $157-million, 100-oven Haverhill plant began operations in March and now produces 550,000 tons of coke each year for the steel industry. It added 65 new jobs to a regional economy that has seen more than its share of punches in the last three decades.

"The largest part of our employees are from Scioto County," said Stan Wash, vice president and general manager of Haverhill North Coke Co. "There are smaller numbers from Lawrence County, from Kentucky and I think two or three from the Huntington, W.Va., area."

While some of the Sun Coke employees are former workers at the New Boston Coke plant, which closed its doors a couple of years ago,

company officials point out that their employees come from all walks of life and many have never worked at a coke plant before.

One of them is Angie Stanley of Franklin Furnace, who said the economic benefits enticed her to come a month and a half ago.

"It's better pay, better benefits, job security," she said. "You can retire from a place like this."

The planned Phase II expansion would add another 100 ovens and another $175 to the Haverhill plant.

"We want to start construction as soon as possible. There are two things to do, one is the final terms of the (Environmental Protection Agency) permits and signing the final deal with a customer," said Mike Dingus, president of Sun Coke Company.

Plant officials said there are several reasons why Sun Coke's plants are succeeding at a time when traditional coke plants are getting smaller in numbers by the decade.

The quality of the coke is higher than that of traditional ovens, officials said, because the process is more refined and more efficient, costing 60 percent of the traditional method.

"Quite simply, we have a better mousetrap," he said.

And a cleaner one, too: The 1990 amendment to the U.S. Clean Air Act named the company's non-recovery technology as the Maximum Achievable Control Technology, meaning all new coke plants built in the United States must comply with Sun Coke's air emission standards.

The traditional, positive-pressure ovens do not meet the federal Clean Air Act.

There is no water runoff from the plant, meaning no emissions into the Ohio River, Sun Coke officials said.

Plant officials point out the Sun Coke production system is their technology, their innovation and their idea - and they are constantly tinkering to find new ways to do it better and better.

For instance: the Haverhill plant, being the newest of the Sun Coke lot, uses a process called "gas share," in which the gas from one oven is sent to the oven next to it that is out of cycle. This lowers the heat in the first oven and increases the heat in the second oven. During the early part of the coke production process

This allows each oven to burn three tons more of coal per charge (load) than if the "gas share" process were not used, making the production more efficient every time coal is loaded into an oven to be turned into coke.

The Haverhill plant is getting international attention as well as national:

"We had Russians here last week," Dingus said, "Chinese have been here, Ukrainians. The Brazilians are coming. We're building a plant in Brazil.

"I think as folks see the plant in operations, they will hopefully conclude its an impressive operation and a clean operation- and a pretty good neighbor," Dingus said.

Sun Coke operates two other coke plants in the United States, one if Virginia and one in Indiana.