A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?
A needle in a haystack?
A plant in central Illinois that turns coal into fertilizer?
Since the early 1980s, there has probably been more talk about
the plant, but the odds against building one seemed higher than the
odds for finding the gold or the needle.
Now, the talk about the plant has intensified, and maybe the
odds are better this time.
Lester Teichner thinks so. He's been trying for more than a
decade to build the plant.
"We hope this is the beginning of a very sensible industry
based on coal," said Teichner, managing partner of COGA Industries,
Teichner announced last week that he wants to build an $850
million plant in Girard, 30 miles southwest of Springfield.
Using a technology called coal gasification, the plant would
subject coal, water and oxygen to high temperatures and high
pressure. The process creates urea, the foundation for a fertilizer
that can be used for soybeans, corn and other crops in America's
As an added attraction, the plant would use the high-sulfur
coal that is so plentiful in Illinois but also so objectionable to
utilities and manufacturers that use coal as a fuel source. They
don't like the high-sulfur coal because they must abide by
increasingly stringent federal air pollution laws. They are looking
for other coal - often from Western states - to the detriment of
Illinois' coal industry.
"Our process is designed to use high-sulfur coal," Teichner
explained. "We'll be able to separate the sulfur and sell it
Teichner envisions a plant that will take 30 to 36 months to
build and will employ 2,000 construction workers. Even though
financing hasn't been completed, he predicted construction could
start next summer.
He forecasts a facility that will have 250 permanent workers
producing $200 million worth of fertilizer annually. The plant
could use 1 million tons of Illinois coal per year.
But the people in central Illinois have heard similar comments
before. In the early 1980s, COGA's predecessor company talked about
building a coal gasification plant in Virden, about 65 miles
northeast of St. Louis.
But this company, of which Teichner was a director, couldn't
attract enough financing.
Part of the problem, Teichner said, was the company's reliance
on help from the old Synthetic Fuels Corp. …