Eastman plans another coal-to-gas switch, this time in Massachusetts

Eastman Chemical (NYSE: EMN) intends to convert the coal-fired boiler at its Indian Orchard, Mass., site to natural gas combustion by January 2016, which is the latest in a series of coal-to-gas switches for the company.

Eastman noted in a June 18 statement that it acquired the Indian Orchard site as part of its acquisition of Solutia Inc. in July 2012.

“Several factors have led to today’s announcement,” said David Lahr, plant manager for the Indian Orchard site, “including compliance with new regulatory requirements, Eastman’s commitment to protecting local air quality, as well as the abundance of domestic natural gas at prices increasingly competitive with coal.”

The Indian Orchard site currently operates three boilers – two natural gas-fired boilers and a coal-fired boiler. The conversion to natural gas will allow the Indian Orchard site to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent industrial boiler regulations. Several years before EPA finalized these regulations, Solutia discussed with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that it was strongly considering a switch to natural gas combustion to meet its steam and electricity needs in order to comply with these regulations. Currently, the deadline by which Eastman must comply with these boiler regulations is Jan. 31, 2016.

This natural gas conversion project is expected to eliminate SO2 and hydrogen chloride emissions from this boiler and reduce its NOx emissions by 70% and particulate matter emissions by 55%. This conversion will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40%. These reductions will add to other emissions reduction projects Indian Orchard has undertaken. 

“Protecting air quality has always been important to this site,” said Lahr. “In recent years, the site has upgraded manufacturing process technology, installed air pollution control equipment and implemented improved work practices. The decision to convert Indian Orchard’s coal-fired boiler to natural gas is a logical next step.”

Another factor is that the growth in domestic natural gas production is lowering natural gas prices and reducing price volatility. Now that natural gas is a more affordable substitute for coal, the decision to convert to natural gas combustion is more economically favorable.

Eastman has a history of switching from coal to natural gas, having done so at its Longview, Texas, operations in 2001 and former Columbia, S.C., operations in 2004. The company is also converting about half of its steam and electrical power generation capacity at its largest manufacturing site in Kingsport, Tenn., from coal to gas.

Eastman is not the only one switching industrial boilers to gas or shutting them entirely. This is part of an overall national trend to shut or convert industrial boilers firing coal, many of them quite old, to meet new air emissions standards. Electric utilities are doing the same thing for similar reasons with their older, smaller coal-fired power plants. It is getting to the point that the only coal plants that will survive are large, relatively new facilities where it is economic to add new emissions controls.

Eastman’s Indian Orchard site is the largest chemical manufacturing facility in New England employing over 400 highly skilled residents. The site manufactures protective interlayers used in laminated glass for automotive and architectural applications.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.