KINGSPORT — Just off Lincoln Street, five metal smokestacks stand tall and their boilers fill out a signature image of Eastman Chemical Co.’s Tennessee industrial complex.
The building is Eastman’s “powerhouse” that burns coal creating steam and electricity for the company’s manufacturing processes and power for a plant site covering more than 800 acres.
But this year, company officials decided to convert those boilers from coal to natural gas to help achieve “significant reductions” in greenhouse gas and other emissions.
“We’ve been talking about that decision since about 2008. We really started looking at natural gas seriously in 2010, and the final decision was made just this spring in the second quarter,” said Jim Amstutz, Eastman’s manager over the project. “We thought we would be doing renovations to the coal facilities but as the price of natural gas has come down, that has made natural gas the preferred option. ... This project is an alternative for us to comply with regulations and hopefully set ourselves up for the future.”
Company officials insist it’s not a cost-saving measure, but instead a move to reach environmental goals by 2018.
“When you burn natural gas, you produce less greenhouse gases than when you burn coal. The switchover will reduce the carbon footprint by about 20 percent,” said Steve Gossett of Eastman Environmental Affairs.
Houston, Texas-based Spectra Energy is Eastman’s supplier and will bring natural gas to the plant site through its East Tennessee pipeline.
Eastman, Amstutz said, will connect to what Spectra Energy calls the “Kingsport lateral” line.
The $90 million project is a part of Eastman’s $1.6 billion “Project Inspire” to invest in safety and environmental projects, increased warehouse capacity, building renovations and expanding its corporate campus.
Amstutz said the natural gas project will create about 400 jobs internally for Spectra Energy, but another 250 other construction jobs will also be needed.
“I think of it in terms of three projects,” Amstutz said. “We’ve got an existing gas line coming into the plant, there is a new line coming in and we’ve got internal work to make sure the gas is distributed to the plant properly and do internal things in the powerhouse to receive the gas.”
The move, Amstutz said, will increase Eastman’s natural gas usage by seven to eight times.
“It’s a big step change for us,” he said. “We generate about as much electricity to power the city of Knoxville. This conversion affects about half of that capacity. It’s a significant portion of our need. You think about the city of Kingsport, it’s much smaller than Knoxville, but we’re using much more gas than anyone else in this area.”
Two other power houses on the Eastman plant site, Amstutz added, will still be fueled by coal and the company still has a gasification facility converting coal into chemicals.
Most of that coal supply comes from central Appalachia, said Gossett.
“We bring in 45 boxcar loads [of coal] a day and this project would essentially cut that in half,” Gossett said.
Eastman Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Rogers, in the company’s most recent sustainability report to stakeholders, said he is convinced the company’s continued growth and success will depend in large part on how sustainability is integrated into its business model.
“At Eastman, a priority is to safely and responsibly manufacture our products in a way that minimizes our use of energy and natural resources,” Rogers said. “Our strategy includes comprehensive guidelines for reducing energy, air emissions, water and waste.”
For more about Eastman, visit www.eastman.com.