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Published on November 30th, 2009 | by Tina Casey


Another One Bites the Dust: Michigan Coal Plant Converts to Biomass

November 30th, 2009 by  

A Michigan coal-fired power plant is converting to biomass.In yet another indication that the days of king coal are numbered, another coal-fired power plant in the U.S. is converting to biomass.  Michigan’s L’Anse Warden Electric Company purchased an existing coal, oil, and natural gas power plant and promptly made the switch in order to engage in some sustainable synergy with a nearby manufacturing operation of the CertainTeed Corporation.


The CertainTeed facility will get the benefit of using electricity with a lower carbon footprint than coal.  It will also give something back.  The factory will recycle its formerly landfilled scrap by sending it to the Warden power plant for fuel, and that’s just the tip of the sustainable iceberg.

CertainTeed and Coal-to-Biomass

Aside from the Michigan plant, CertainTeed has 6,000 employees in more than 65 factories in the U.S. and Canada.  Its home base, though, is in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  The location is significant because Pennsylvania is coal country, and when one of a coal state’s major corporate citizens gives coal the brush-off, it’s a clear indication that fossil fuels are losing their stranglehold on the rest of the industrial community.

CertainTeed and Sustainability

CertainTeed is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, and it provides a glimpse into a more sustainable future for manufacturing.  In addition to biomass electricity, CertainTeed’s Michigan plant will get excess steam from the Warden facility for its production process, replacing the natural gas it previously used to manufacture ceiling tiles.  But wait, there’s more.  In 2008  the factory produced more than 7,600 tons of soil booster for farms, the result of recycling inert sludge instead of sending it to landfills.  The plant also has a lifecycle approach to ceiling tile manufacturing, mixing a slurry made of old recycled ceiling tiles with virgin materials.

Coal vs. Biomass

Biomass is not without a carbon footprint of its own, but it can be a significantly smaller one than coal and it boasts a number of advantages that coal cannot claim.  For example, a coal-to-biomass conversion in Hawaii will help reduce energy-churning shipments of coal to the islands, while relieving a solid waste crisis by diverting local agricultural waste from landfills. And, a new biomass plant in Texas is expected to yield ash that is safe to recycle as soil booster – a far cry from the coal ash that is causing so many problems elsewhere.

Image: Open pit coal mine by Jen SFO-BCO on flickr.com. 

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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