We caught up with Met Coke World Summit Advisory Board member, Dr. John F. Quanci, to get his thoughts on the dilemma of the domestic coal maker. Dr Quanci will deliver a keynote titled Is there still life in Coke and Coal-making technology? at Met Coke World Summit 2015.
As VP of Engineering and Technology, and Chief Technology Officer at SunCoke Energy, Dr. Quanci is uniquely positioned to provide perspective on what's to come. Dr. Quanci addresses recent developments at SunCoke, and sheds light upon what to expect for domestic supply chain, new technology on the horizon, and the state of the industry at large.
What will domestic coal makers do as more plants close?
We expect domestic integrated steel production to stabilize at 36 to 38 million tons-per-year going forward, which will require about 20 to 24 million tons of met coal to supply the 13 to 17 million tons of coke that will be needed. The domestic met coal producers should have a leg up supplying U.S. coke-makers. The export market will be very difficult for U.S. met coal producers due to cost and currency challenges. I would expect domestic coal miners to perform a mine-by-mine evaluation of their operations, which we did as part of our coal mining rationalization plans.
In December 2014, SunCoke announced it was winding down coal mining operations. If not from your own mines, where do you expect to find a supply of coking coal from a shrinking pool of suppliers?
As the second largest U.S. purchaser of met coal we’ve largely relied on third-party suppliers for our specific blend of high-quality metallurgical coal. Before we began rationalizing our coal mining operations we were only sourcing about 16 percent of our met coal from those mines. We continue to use about 6.2 million tons of domestic met coal annually, of which about 500,000 tons is sourced from contract mining arrangements at our coal mines and the rest is purchased through third parties.
What are some scenarios you envision emerging from the coking coal supply chain?
As the domestic met coal supply is rationalized, coal quality will be a chief concern, especially for byproduct ovens with wall pressure constraints. Another consideration is the future of the byproduct coke plants. The average age of those plants is 39 years, while SunCoke’s coke plants are about 11 years old. If byproduct plants retire we have a plant permitted and ready to be built to pick up the demand.
What technological innovations might alleviate – or worsen – this situation?
The SunCoke heat-recovery technology helps alleviate this problem because a heat-recovery coke oven can employ a wider blend of coals, which gives the coke plant more options and flexibility. Our ovens, for example, don’t have the wall pressure limits inherent in byproduct operations. This also means that heat-recovery plants don’t require pilot plant testing with large changes in coal blends. We can model and predict the coal quality and required operating conditions, then run the blend without concerns over its impact to our ovens.