Focused on coal

Ceramic Technology creates custom steel equipment for the industry

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Ceramic Technology pi­­­­oneered a technology shift more than two decades ago that allows coal plants to work more efficiently today. The company began using ceramics to replace liners in coal preparation and coal-fired power plants in Southwest Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.

“It was a tremendous improvement in efficiency,” says company president Lee Osborne. “It provided a 10-to-1 return on investment. We have been busy since then.”

Osborne’s appreciation for coal is as strong as his love for Southwest Virginia. His history with the coal industry dates back 40 years. “Coal is one of the strongest energy sources … he says. “Without it you can’t make steel, so you wouldn’t be driving cars or building skyscrapers.”

Located in Tazewell County, Ceramic Technology designs and fabricates custom steel equipment for the coal industry. Eighty percent of the company’s business is directly related to coal and coal-fired power plants. The remaining 20 percent relates to coal-fired utilities. It is currently providing fabrication work for The Shaw Group, the general contractor building Dominion Virginia Power’s new coal-fired plant, the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County.

Ceramic Technology also works with noncoal companies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and has its own in-house engineering department. “We do a lot of engineering work for coal companies,” Osborne says.

He says sales have grown 15 to 20 percent a year since he started the company 26 years ago.  (The company did not disclose figures on revenues.)

He realized that ceramics were an emerging technology while working for Pittston Coal. The near-diamond hardness of ceramic linings, he notes, can extend the life of steel equipment 10 to 15 times over nonlined equipment. 

In 1985, Osborne purchased Ceramic Specialties and renamed it Ceramic Technology. The company has grown from three to nearly 50 employees. In addition to customers from the Eastern United States, the company also ships products to Canada and overseas.

In March 2010 Ceramic Technology was awarded a U.S. international patent on a technology that helps lower operational costs for coal and mineral processing through the recovery of magnetite, a medium used to separate coal and rock. It has been installed in more than 400 coal and mineral processing operations.

Osborne likes his company’s location in Southwest Virginia.  “I am most proud of our people and their performance, innovation and self-reliance,” he says. 

Tazewell County is known for its history, outdoor adventure and natural beauty. The county is home to Burke’s Garden, the highest valley in Virginia and the largest rural historic district in Virginia.

Hiking, biking, equestrian and motorized vehicle trails can be found along the Virginia Coal Heritage Trail’s 325-mile network of rural roads that run throughout the coalfields of southwestern Virginia. The town of Pocahontas is home to the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine, a National Historic Landmark where visitors can view the coal formed 400 million years ago and see methods of mining used from the 1880s to the present day. 

The county’s economy
Located within one day’s drive of one-half the population of the United States, Tazewell County has a diverse manufacturing base of companies that include Pyott Boone Electronics (high-tech equipment for mine safety and productivity), Jennmar Corp.  (roof support systems) and Tadano Mantis (industrial cranes). The county is developing the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Center, a 680-acre mixed-used development. In 2010, Chris Chmura, president of Richmond-based Chmura Economics and Analytics, stated that the economy in the Virginia Coalfield Region — which includes Tazewell County — is doing better than the state and nation for three reasons: the coal industry has been strong, professional business services are growing and construction is showing growth. Tourism development also is having a positive economic impact. In 2009, Tazewell County saw more than $43 million in travel expenditures.

Where to stay
Tazewell County has several national hotel chains such as Super 8 and Holiday Inn Express. The area also is home to Whispering Waters, a quaint bed and breakfast. The B&B offers accommodations in the main house, spring house and cabin. Amenities include natural trails, a sauna and a Jacuzzi as well as breakfast.

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