Limestone producer helps clean coal mining, power generation

By |  March 13, 2017

The parched land of central New Mexico once yielded uranium, a heavy metal that fueled the United States’ nuclear power program. However, the material has lain dormant for decades. In its place, limestone, a more common, useful and less volatile mineral is the new mining mineral of choice.

C&E Concrete is a leading producer of milled limestone for use in coal mines and power plants. The company is extracting a pure form of limestone from its Tinaja pit, a stone’s throw from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Established in 1974 by Walter and Norma Meech, C&E Concrete quickly built a reputation in the southwestern region of the U.S. as a mining specialist, following the discovery of pure calcium carbonate – something the Tinaja pit has plenty of.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment

Articulated haulers are used to move stone from the mountain down to the crusher, and they are fitted with 100-percent differential locking on all wheels. Photos courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment

The Tinaja pit houses limestone that is about 85 ft. thick.

“The upper grade of this formation is about 85 percent calcium carbonate, but the lower part, which is the bottom 35 to 40 ft., is as high as 97 to 98 percent calcium carbonate,” says Walter Lee Meech, the founders’ son and current president.

The Clean Coal Technology Program, established in 1985, called for greener power generation nationwide. For older coal-fired power plants, this included installing scrubber systems in the smokestacks to filter sulfur from the exhaust. Fortunately for C&E Concrete, limestone absorbs sulfur and fine particulates from the air, significantly reducing the environmental impact of coal power plants.

“That’s what makes it such a valuable commodity,” Meech adds.

The push toward cleaner energy opened up a window of opportunity, Meech says. C&E purchased the 1,600-acre property and set up full-time quarry and crushing operations.

What lies beneath

It’s not just in the power station where the limestone is a valued addition. Milled limestone, often referred to as rock dust, is an additive used for safety in underground coal mines.

Recently, C&E Concrete began supplying an ultra-fine grind of rock dust to coal mines to improve the air quality for miners and reduce the risk of explosions caused by suspended particles of flammable coal dust in the air.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment

Walter Lee Meech, left, president of C&E Concrete, and Flavio Salazar, territory sales representative, Golden Equipment.

“We can produce 17 to 20 tons of rock dust per hour,” Meech adds.

Quarrying limestone is not without its challenges, though. Towering at an elevation of 7,500 ft. above sea level, the Tinaja pit is steeper than other mines in the region, with 21 percent grades at the summit. The high-pressure environment is also dusty, causing additional wear and tear on machine engines and bearings.

To withstand the harsh environment, C&E Concrete needed suitably high-quality machines to support its growing demand. The company has built up its fleet so that it now includes 18 Volvo machines. This equipment has been supplied by local dealer Golden Equipment based in Albuquerque and spans the size classes; comprising six articulated haulers, ranging from 28- to 44-ton payload capacity, an L350F wheel loader and excavators. Together, they move more than 3,300 tons of rock each day.

Fueling the future

The Volvo articulated haulers are used to haul stone from the mountain down to the crusher. To keep the operation running at full capacity, the machines are fitted with 100 percent differential locking on all wheels and powered by the Volvo engine, delivering high-torque at low rpm.

“We found that Volvo haulers are stronger, and the braking systems better,” Meech says.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment

C&E Concrete’s growing operations at the Tinaja pit will not only produce safer and cleaner products but will also ensure a greener future.

Joining the haulers is Volvo’s largest wheel loader: the L350F. As the primary loader for the haulers, the L350F is fitted with a 10-cu.-yd. spade nose bucket that carries an average of 26,190 pounds. Purchased in 2015, the hauler is the most recent addition to the fleet and is already earning its keep – averaging fuel savings of 40 to 50 gallons per day.

Ensuring the machines continue to operate at optimum levels is Flavio Salazar, the account representative at Golden Equipment, who is proving as reliable as the machines themselves.

“They’ve been real good at taking care of us,” Meech says. “They come out when we need them, and they understand what our needs are.”

Ed Morlan, crusher superintendent at the Tinaja pit, acknowledges a solid foundation is built on durability and aftersales support.

“We have equipment here with almost 40,000 hours, and they’re still running,” he says.

The Tinaja pit also supplies an assortment of C&E Concrete sub-companies, whose products include ready-mix concrete, asphalt, crushed stone, sand and gravel.

The company’s growing operations at the Tinaja pit will not only produce safer and cleaner products but will also ensure a greener future. For every acre that C&E Concrete works, it reclaims another acre through a replanting project.

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