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Bob Murray, A Great American, Has Died

Members of the coal industry were saddened to learn that Robert E. Murray, Founder, and former Chairman, President and CEO, Murray Energy passed away early on Sunday morning. He had announced his retirement just five days before from the Chairmanship of American Consolidated Natural Resources Inc. (ACNR), the succeeding company of Murray Energy. He had spent 63 years serving the coal industry.

“No one has been more devoted to the coal industry and ACNR’s business than Mr. Murray”, said Robert D. Moore, ACNR President and CEO at the retirement announcement. ”When others shied away from the industry, he dug in and worked hard for the industry and for our business. We will always appreciate Mr Murray for all he has done and in recognition of that he has been named Chairman Emeritus.”


Bob Murray, As He Would Like to be Remembered

Of Scottish decent, his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were coal miners and Bob went to work in a coal mine at the age of 17 to provide for his family, rising from the ranks from miner to engineer and eventually to becoming President and CEO of North American Coal Company (NACCO). In 1988, he formed Murray Energy by mortgaging nearly everything he owned. The company grew to over 7,500 employees with operations in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and Utah and was the largest privately held underground coal operator in the nation with an annual production reaching 62.8 million tons of coal.

Bob was born on January 13, 1941 in Martins Ferry, Ohio. He was valedictorian of Bethesda High School class of 1957. He received a Bachelor of Engineering in Mining Engineering from Ohio State University, and completed the Management Program at Harvard Business School.

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NETL-Supported Project Develops Flexible Rare Earth Element Extraction From Coal Waste

FE selected 13 projects to receive approximately $1.95 million in Federal funding to develop designs of commercially viable technologies that will extract rare earth elements  from coal waste.

The designs will include system configurations, equipment features, performance characteristics, and associated costs for systems that produce at least 1–3 metric tons per day of mixed rare earth oxides or rare earth salts and other critical minerals in some designs.

DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory will manage the projects, which will be carried out by the following recipients:

    - Battelle Memorial Institute (Columbus, OH)
    - BioCarbon Technologies LLC (Missoula, MT)
    - Concurrent Technologies Corporation (Johnstown, PA)
    - Energy Fuels Resources (Lakewood, CO)
    - MATERIA USA LLC (Inwood, NY)
    - MP Mine Operations LLC (Mountain Pass, CA)
    - Tetra Tech, Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA) Project 1

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Gas-to-Coal Switching in Key ISOs

As gas prices recover and trade as high as the $3-mark this week, one predictable consequence is the return of gas-to-coal fuel switching for power generation in several key areas of the country.

The analysis pictured in the chart below tracks coal’s share of power generation relative to gas in the ISO regions of PJM, MISO, and SPP. This metric tends to rise as gas prices increase, and since October 9th it has been doing just that.


G&A suspects that dislocated spot prices helped to blunt this response early in the month, even as futures began to recover. However, with Henry Hub trading as high as $2.88/MMBtu today and other regional spot prices also rising, a coinciding turn down in gas generation is expected to follow in power markets in the Central and Northeast US.

At current prices, coal would soon account for a larger share of generation in these markets and begin to temper gas demand on a weather-adjusted basis.

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Coal-Fired Power in 2021: A Recovery or a Reckoning?

This has been the year from hell for coal-fired power and the coal industry. If current projections hold, coal generation in 2020 will be 21% lower than last year and 62% lower than the 2007 peak. The coal share of the generating mix, which for decades hovered around 50%, will finish the year at 20%, the lowest on record. Coal production will be the lowest since 1964 and down by a quarter just from 2019.

The new year may bring relief. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) projects that coal generation will recover most of its 2020 losses in 2021, bringing some stability to coal plant operators and coal miners. The key factor behind a coal power recovery is higher prices for natural gas, which indeed appear likely in 2021. Nonetheless, a coal recovery in 2021 is highly contingent on other dynamics. A close look illustrates how factors such as fuel inventories, capacity additions, and trends in electricity demand growth could mute the impact of higher gas prices. A review also shows how coal-fired power, once the bedrock of American power generation, has become dependent on factors—such as winter weather in northeast Asia and the price liquefied natural gas (LNG) commands in Europe—that once would have been considered arcane and irrelevant.

A Recovery in 2020?

The EIA is currently projecting a turnaround for coal generation and coal consumption in 2021. As shown in Table 1, coal megawatt-hours and coal burn (tons) are expected to increase by about 20%, recovering most of the ground lost in 2020, while gas-fired generation drops by 15%. After accounting for other coal demand sectors and inventory changes, miners are expected to enjoy a 19% increase in production, a reprieve from the 2020 disaster.




Table 1. Generation, consumption, and prices. Source: EIA


This forecast pivots on a key factor—an expected increase of 51% in the market price of natural gas. The EIA expects the Henry Hub price for natural gas in 2021 to remain above $3.00 per MMBtu for the entire year, something that has not happened since 2014. The assumption is that high natural gas prices will lead generators away from gas and back to coal.

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An Energy and Emissions Reality Check from Candidate Biden

In a townhall last week, Joe Biden sought to distance himself and his energy plan from the Green New Deal. "The difference between me and the new green deal is they say, automatically, by 2030 we're going to be carbon free. Not possible," Biden said.

He continued, making a case for investment into carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), “The new green deal calls for elimination of all nonrenewable energy by 2030. You can't get there. You're going to need to be able to transition. ... [In my plan] we invest in new technologies that allow us to do things that get us to a place where we get to net-zero emissions."


Candidates say a lot of things to get elected and certainly the ambiguity around candidate Biden’s stance on some energy issues, fracking being a prime example, has raised eyebrows. But Vice President Biden’s willingness to push back against the Green New Dealers and embrace the necessity of CCUS could mark a genuine recognition of a data-driven fact: fossil fuels remain the foundation of the world’s energy system and any effective and replicable emissions-reduction strategy must create solutions that works with them.

On his website, Vice President Biden writes that he, “shares the Carbon Capture Coalition’s goal ‘to make CCUS a widely available, cost-effective, and rapidly scalable solution to reduce carbon emissions to meet mid-century climate goals.’” He continues, saying he will “double down on federal investments and enhance tax incentives for CCUS.”

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