Though most mines have closed and consumption is a fraction of what it was in the past, Western Maryland is still considered coal country. The mascot for Mountain Ridge High School is a miner for a reason.
Coal ash is created when the fossil fuel is used by power plants to produce electricity. It is one of the largest types of industrial waste generated in the United States, according to information provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2012, 470 coal-fired electric utilities generated about 110 million tons of coal ash, the EPA reported.
We have coal here and coal ash too, so it seemed serendipitous to us that Frostburg’s mayor and city council members have agreed to sign a letter of support for SonoAsh Engineered Materials. The company, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, has expressed interest in opening a facility in the advanced technology park on the campus of Frostburg State University.
SonoAsh processes coal ash impounds, creating compounds used in green cement, silica flour, proppants, technology metals and cenospheres. Proppant is defined as sand or similar particulate material suspended in water or other fluid and used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to keep fissures open. A cenosphere is a lightweight, inert, hollow sphere made largely of silica and alumina and filled with air or inert gas.
“They have patented intellectual property that they’re looking to bring a center of excellence for their engineering materials relating to re-using stored coal ash in the area to make a green concrete substitute — a green business with some very sustainable benefits,” said City Administrator Elizabeth Stahlman.
The university, Allegany County economic development and the state of Maryland, including the governor’s office, have all been enrolled in the project, she said.
The business would still have to go through city and state permitting processes.
No air quality permit will be required since all work will be a “contained process” inside the building, Stahlman told Commissioner of Water, Parks and Recreation Nina Forsythe.
Potential jobs aside, the project sounds like a perfect fit for the region.