"This is good news for the
mining industry and for the environment," said Joel Brunsvold,
director of the Department of Natural Resources. "The impact of this
discovery can't be underestimated. It is the groundwork to create an
entirely new type of business. The implications go even beyond
enhancing the Illinois coal industry."
Another benefit of the discovery is
that a portion of the profits from patents goes to the University of
Illinois and to the Illinois State Geological Survey.
"At a time of tight finances in the
state of Illinois, this is a great enhancement for state coffers,"
said Brunsvold. "We benefit not just from the economic benefit to
industry, but from the profit from the patents because of research
the state was able to sanction -- research that might otherwise not
have been done."
The new developments involve the
process known in the mining industry as froth flotation. In the
past, as much as 20 percent of coal has been lost as coal fines, or
dust, usually wasted in a slurry of water. This technology makes it
possible to clean incombustible ash from fine coal, separate and
concentrate metallic ores, and even remove pollutants from
contaminated soils. The discoveries came under the research
leadership of Latif Kahn, Ph.D.
"There is actually a set of three
technologies at work here," Kahn said. "At the root of this process
is the principle that particles will either stick to the bubbles in
a froth or remain behind in a slurry of solid particles and liquid.
We use that principle in creating high-velocity water jets to form a
froth that separates product from the waste. It involves a motorless,
rotorless cell capped with an included washer to separate the fine
coal from mineral matter. Added to that is an automated filtering
system that expresses the water out of the froth, forming a nearly
dry product that can be sold."
The commercial potential for the
discovery was tapped in 2004, when the Illinois State Geological
Survey team that developed this system was approached by MHI, a
venture capital group interested in moving the technologies to full
commercialization. Dynamic Separations Inc. was formed and is
cooperating with the Illinois State Geological Survey on field
demonstrations, currently being funded by the Illinois Clean Coal
Institute, as well as pursuing other commercial ventures.
"These technologies could improve
the economics of coal preparation and increase the profit margin for
Illinois coal mines," said Bill Hoback, bureau chief for the
Illinois Office of Coal Development. The Illinois Clean Coal
Institute is an arm of the Office of Coal Development of the
Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
[to top of second column in this article]
"Support from the Illinois Clean
Coal Institute has been indispensable in the development of the
technologies," said Bill Shilts, Ph.D., chief of the Illinois
- Under terms of the exclusive
license awarded to Dynamic Separations by the University of
Illinois, university regulations specify that the revenues paid to
the university be shared, with 40 percent going to the inventors
(Khan et al.), 40 percent to the university and 20 percent to be
paid to the inventors' administrative unit -- the Illinois State
- From the fall of 1996 to the
present, the Illinois Clean Coal Institute has funded 12 different
research projects at the Illinois State Geological Survey to
support the development of the three technologies.
- The Illinois Clean Coal Institute
provided almost $1.8 million, the Illinois State Geological Survey
itself contributed $566,000, and partners such as American Coal
Company, Freeman Energy, Consol Energy and Dynamic Separations
have so far contributed a little over $400,000.
- Among the 50 state geological
surveys in the United States, the Illinois State Geological Survey
is unique in supporting a group of highly qualified engineers to
carry out research and develop technologies to solve coal and
other energy-related problems. The engineering work began more
than 65 years ago when the Illinois group built the Applied
Research Laboratory, across the street from Abbott Power plant,
and began studying the coking properties of Illinois coals.
- Since its inception in 1905, the
Illinois State Geological Survey has been forming partnerships
with industry and with other government agencies, providing them
with the geological expertise they need to improve the economy,
overcome environmental problems and avoid geological hazards.
Department of Natural Resources news release]