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Community and Q&A

Opposition to new Roxul/Rockwool plant in WV.

Rick Evans | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

Some Mid-Atlantic news outlets (including the Washington Post) are reporting on the opposition of a new Rockwool plant in Jefferson County, WV.  

Source: https://www.wvpublic.org/post/jefferson-county-residents-uproar-over-new-insulation-plant#stream/0

The link above contains a link to Rockwool’s letter to the WV EPA.  I read through the first 15 pages or so… 

It sounds like they will be trucking in the raw materials (as opposed to rail) and then using primarily coal to fire the furnaces.  They describe that VOCs (including formaldehyde), methane, CO2, and particulate matter will be expled from the stacks , among other nasty things.  Rockwool does detail how they plan to use various techniques- including the use of chemicals- to ‘scrub’ the steam emissions. (I would cut and paste the actual words but it’s difficult on my mobile device.  I encourage you to read it. )

Anyway, I’m sure that the production of most insulation comes at a heavy cost to the environment and our communities.  I love mineral wool but this article has me questioning it’s “greeness”.  

Am I overreacting?  Does cellulose and wood fiber insulation produce similar waste?  Thoughts from GBA community?

Thank you,

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Replies

  1. John Clark | | #1

    You're not necessarily overreacting but it's important to gain an understanding of the products themselves.

    Cellulose is made from paper. Paper mills are polluters as well. They require large amounts of water and levels of dioxin in wastewater discharge used to always be a concern.

    https://www.intechopen.com/books/environmental-management-in-practice/pollution-prevention-in-the-pulp-and-paper-industries

    Mineral Wool is very energy intensive because it requires large amount of heat to melt raw materials. Some of those materials are virgin and some consist of recycled iron ore blast furnace slag.

    There's no doubt that the people of Jefferson County WV would also be up in arms if a paper mill wanted to move in. The largest employers in the county are govt and govt schools followed by medical.

  2. Expert Member
    Zephyr7 | | #2

    This is pretty typical when any large new industrial facility looks to enter any particular area. It's the old NIMBY mentality. In terms of energy consumption and "greeneess", you'd need to look at overall system efficiency -- how much value in terms of energy savings does the product create compared to the energy it takes to make it? Even that is an over simplification since every product has various pros and cons.

    I'm not sure why you detail out "including the use of chemicals" in your post. Any manufacturing process uses chemicals. Water is a chemical. Just because they "use chemicals" doesn't mean it's a bad thing. A lot of of the emissions control systems use a sprayed water mist, possibly with additives, to precipitate out various contaminants from the exhaust gases that go out the stack. Often times those chemical additives bind to hazardous materials to neutralize them (often making a salt), resulting in a less-hazardous waste product.

    Bill

    1. EPmountaineer | | #24

      It is well beyond a NIMBY issue. Jefferson County is at the end of the Shenandoah Valley. Our Blue Ridge Mountain creates poor air dispersion factors. We experience inversions a lot throughout the year. Even though our county only has 56,000 residents and very little industry, we often have higher ozone levels than the Washington DC metro region which has 4 million people. When we're experiencing an inversion, we're going to be getting all of Rockwool's awful emissions. Such a factory should have never been permitted in our valley this day and age. We know better. Unfortunately, WV's joke of a DEP doesn't care. Rockwool's own estimates expect a minimum 13% increase in particulate matter 2.5 countywide. It is very health hazardous. Short term exposure causes congestion and inflammation in the body. Long term exposure causes organ damage. Worse yet, this 460,000 square foot factory is being built across from an elementary school. It is wrong on every level.

      Regarding chemicals, Rockwool will still be using its horribly toxic formaldehyde binder at this factory. The packaged batting doesn't off gas formaldehyde into homes because Rockwool literally vacuums it out of the batting at the factory and shoots it up the stack before packaging it. At least fiberglass batting has been able to remove formaldehyde from its binder. So regarding mineral wool, Rockwool still uses a really bad cancer causing chemical - formaldehyde - when the other major players have been able to remove it. Rockwool expects to cause a minimum 17% increase in formaldehyde in Jefferson County's air.

      Worst of all, our local officials were bamboozled into offering $36 million in tax breaks for this heavy polluting factory in return for 140 jobs (guaranteed only for three years). We were promised a "sustainable" and "environmentally friendly" facility only to find out after the contract was signed that it will be burning 93 tons of coal per day, plus gas, 365 days a year. We're not even near coal mines. The nearest mine is three hours away. It definitely is not sustainable or environmentally friendly.

      For this $150 million highly automated factory, our schools, county, and state will only be receiving a combined total of $2 million in taxes over the first ten years of operation, and then pennies thereafter because Rockwool was guaranteed "salvage rate" assessments thereafter. Our bamboozled county development authority will be accepting Rockwool's property once the factory is nearly complete so it can avoid property taxes. It is a terrible deal considering the enormous increases in hazardous air pollutants. Please don't call us NIMBYs. No one in their right mind would want this heavy polluting factory near them, and especially not in a valley with poor air dispersion factors.

  3. Jon R | | #3

    Cellulose insulation made from recycled paper has very low environmental impact - use it whenever possible. Avoid anything involving coal.

    1. Expert Member
      Dana Dorsett | | #5

      If cellulose insulation were being made from virgin stock fiber the impact would be comparable to that of rock wool, or at least in the same order of magnitude. That would also make it more expensive than cellulose made from recycled paper. Since cellulose is made from recycled paper the original environmental hit for the paper doesn't really count, but the transportation and processing energy for converting the scrap paper into insulation does.

      If rock wool could be made from slag in direct conjunction with the steel making process a good chunk of the environmental footprint for rock wool would go away, since it would be heated from cool temperatures all the way to the melting point only once.

  4. Russell Miller | | #4

    Born n raised few miles from their new plant!and, still here.

    They have a pretty good track record. I love their products, enough said

  5. Expert Member
    Peter Engle | | #6

    Dana, you hit one of my peeves. There is so much energy inefficiency in our industrial processes - heating things up and cooling them down, over and over again. Even in the steel process itself, it's not unusual to heat the ore once to make the steel, maybe heating it again to alloy the steel. Heating it again to form into shapes. Heating again in the fabrication process. Shipping it between states (or countries) between each process. A rockwool facility c0-located inside a steel plant would be able to produce rockwool almost for free, but it would take up space in the plant and might not be convenient for transportation of the finished product. Still, the engineer in me just hates all that wasted energy.

    1. Expert Member
      Dana Dorsett | | #7

      It would actually be a pretty hard thing to pull off, since the rates of steel making will vary from of insulation making, and the market cycles of each product type differ dramatically. A lot of energy and cash can end up being expended in underutilized capital equipment and product storage facilities unless the marriage is perfect, which is a big ask.

      I too hate the wasted energy, but in the grand energy scheme the net benefit of the insulation far exceeds the energy waste of re-heating.

    2. Expert Member
      Zephyr7 | | #8

      Some of those cooling and reheating steps in steel manufacturing are for annealing and other heat treatments. It's not wasted, it's necessary in those cases. An example is that you want to machine a part using steel in a softer state so that your tooling lasts longer, but you heat treat it for hardening afterwards so that the part you made lasts longer in service. This is pretty common.

      Dana is correct too -- sometimes there are efficiencies doing things a particular way that may not be apparent to people outside of the industry or process. An example is a plant that punches out metal pieces from sheet. The waste product (the leftover sheet after the parts have been punched out) goes back to the steel plant to be melted into new steel sheet. Sure, it seems wasteful, but how else would you do it? Surely its better to reuse the otherwise wasted steel than it would be to just dispose of it as trash.

      Some years ago I was involved in an interesting project that was a paper recycling plant. A new recycling plant was constructed adjacent to a paper mill so that the recycled paper pulp could be sent over to the paper mill on a conveyor. I thought that sounded like a good idea, but... My involvement was with the DECOMMISSIONING of the recycling plant that never came online. It was a government financed project, and they failed to allow for the logistics of bringing the to-be-recycled paper to the plant. The logistics of bringing in the materials to the recycling plant was such that the plant could not be economically operated in the location where it was built. The paper mill was near forested areas, so that was a plus for the paper mill. The recycling plant needed to be close to cities where waste paper was, and it was too remote to be practical. A good idea, but poorly executed.

      Bill

  6. Nick Welch | | #9

    I generally like rock wool, but they're building a brand new plant that burns coal? That blows my mind. I'm opposed to that and I don't even live nearby. No one should be gearing up to burn more fossil fuels, especially coal, at this point in history. And the fact that they're claiming with a straight face that it will have zero health or environmental impact is fairly enraging.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/insulation-plant-divides-community-in-west-virginia/2019/06/09/d0ea34a8-7d68-11e9-8ede-f4abf521ef17_story.html

    1. John Clark | | #10

      I suspect burning coal is much more efficient at generating the required heat to melt the raw materials rather than using electricity generated by coal.

      1. Nick Welch | | #14

        Sure, but those are far from the only options.

        1. John Clark | | #15

          Such as?

          1. EPmountaineer | | #25

            Fiberglass batting for one. It has nearly the same R value and noise reduction as Rockwool's batting. Fiberglass is way less energy intense and easily uses a gas-fired melt furnace or electric furnace to melt recycled glass. For the vast majority of insulation installation needs, fiberglass batting is better than rockwool, and there are plenty more alternatives to rockwool. And by better, I mean significantly less damaging to the environment, same or similar R value, and more affordable to install.

  7. Expert Member
    Rick Evans | | #11

    Nick, I am inclined to agree with you. But John may be right. Rockwool's letter to the WV EPA explains their process in detail. It states that they need to generate 6 million BTUs to process the slag!

    1. Expert Member
      Zephyr7 | | #12

      It is always going to be more efficient to use an energy source in a way that minimizes how many conversions that energy has to go through to do the final work.

      For electricity, that would be from the source (coal/gas/hydro -- whatever), through a step-up transformer, through transmission lines, through a step down transformer (maybe several), through distribution lines, through another step down transformer, then into the industrial process. A coal-burning power plant will loose a lot of heat out the stack, and into the cooling system since the boilers and turbines are not 100% efficient. Maybe 20-30% at best of the coals' energy content will actually be used in the rockwool plant, the rest is lost in various places along the way.

      For coal being used directly, that is coal -> industrial process, one step. This is much more efficient.

      Producing 6 million BTUs would require 1.8 megawatt (assuming 100% efficiency). That's approximately 50% of the output of a typical suburban substation circuit that would normally run hundreds of houses. That's a LOT of power, and not something that can be easily replaced with non-conventional energy sources, especially for an industrial process that likely operates 24 hours a day. There is no way to do this with rooftop solar, for example.

      Bill

  8. Burninate | | #13

    We are by all accounts horrifically inferior on emissions controls and environmental justice to Western Europe.

    If their plant design can work in their home Denmark, I assume it can work here.

    West Virginia is continuously bulldozing itself to strip off overburden in order to export coal. Coal mines (which a 50-100 years ago were extremely labor-intensive) are why a good fraction of the state has towns at all; Half of their waterways are unsafe as a result. Any other industry is an improvement in both human and environmental terms, with the end of the coal industry in sight.

    1. EPmountaineer | | #26

      New Rockwool plants in Europe are no longer burning coal. Rockwool has also started replacing its old coal-fired melt furnaces in Europe with their electric arc furnaces. And the new factory under development in Ploisy France is designed with Rockwool's electric arc furnace.

      Jefferson County WV isn't near coal. The closest coal mine is three hours away. This dang factory will only create more demand for destroying mountains, valleys, streams, and ground water in coal country. Worse yet, it won't even be using the trains that run right along the factory's property. It will be diesel trucking the coal to the factory creating even more pollution. It is not an improvement, it is just continuing the tradition of heavy polluters exploiting West Virginia.

  9. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #16

    >"If their plant design can work in their home Denmark, I assume it can work here."

    That's not necessarily a good assumption. Energy sources, costs, environmental & labor regulations, and market alternatives in Denmark aren't the same as in the US. From a production-technical perspective it can still work in W.VA, but from a financial-business perspective it's not a slam-dunk that exactly replicating a Danish plant in the US could produce the product at a cost low enough to be competitive in the US market. It's at least apples and pears, if not oranges.

    Hedehusene, the town in Denmark where the original (and current) Rockwool factory and gravel pits are located shows the factory is adjacent to an oil refinery tank farm, roof tile factory & cement works too- it's an industrial part of town very close to medium to high density parts of town. It's not clear that the air quality in Hedehusene is any better than Jefferson County W. VA would be after the factory goes in. In fact, the absence of tall smokestacks at the Rockwool plant notwithstanding, the local-environmental impact of Rockwool's Hedehusene factory works and associated development may be heavier than what's slated for Jefferson County. Find a map site with a satellite view of Hovedgaden 501, 2640 Hedehusene, Denmark, and zoom out/around a bit.

    That's not to argue that the Jefferson County project is a perfectly appropriate development for that exact location, but factories have environmental impacts where ever they are sited, and it's not obvious that those impacts are any better or worse in Denmark than W.VA. It's really up to W.VA and Jefferson County to decide what's acceptable in their neighborhood.

  10. Al Cobb | | #17

    To further the discussion, I live 3 miles downwind of the proposed new plant. Its plan to burn 90+ tons of coal and 1.2 million Cubic Feet of Fracked gas every day of the year will push Jefferson County from the least polluted of 55 counties to the second most polluted based on permitted discharge.
    The plant was wooed by the elected officials in Charleston and by placing it in Jefferson County, they have justified one more extension of a fracked gas pipeline that will ultimately allow overseas sales.
    Rockwool has the ability to use arc-furnace technology as they are installing in other plants around the world including France. However, WV has the coal and they got a sweetheart deal with all kinds of incentives and tax exemptions.
    The anger at elected officials and "friends of coal" (Who lead the State and Federal EPA) is at the heart of this controversy. Jefferson County has the lowest unemployment rate of the entire State at under 3%. In addition it is among the highest in tax revenue for the State with tourism, and agriculture near the top of the income producing industries. The county has NO heavy industry and it just doesn't make any sense to build the plant in Jefferson County across the street form an elementary school unless you understand the motivation of the fossil fuel industry and its interests.
    For Rockwool's part, they are, in my opinion, blatantly green-washing their product. The have an incredibly energy intensive manufacturing process that is a huge polluter. And, it's not just Jefferson County that is up in arms. The prevailing wind will spread their discharge throughout Northern Virginia and Maryland with Washington DC in the direct path of their annual release of 370 thousand tons of air pollution.

    1. Expert Member
      Zephyr7 | | #19

      90 tons of coal is nothing in industrial terms. A typical coal-fired power plant may burn 5,000 tons of coal per day, every day, all year long. Rockwool's plant would be less than 2% of that. Dana is absolutely correct too -- unless the electric supply to the arc furnaces is from some other clean source (hydro, nuclear, etc.), all they are doing is burning the same fuel as the power supply, but with the added inefficiencies from the additional energy conversions along the way. In Dana's example of 30%, that "90 tons of coal per day" you mention would end up being effectively 300 tons per day to do the same amount of work. The only difference is the emissions are now somewhere else, wherever the power plant is located.

      You refer to a "fracked gas pipeline" too. That's just natural gas, methane. Whether sourced from conventional wells or wells using fracking technologies, the gas is the same, there is no difference.

      I am assuming that the Rockwool plant will be required to meet all current emissions standards for coal fired furnaces. Those are pretty strict standards these days. It is no longer the 1800s where coal fired plants belch out black smoke and coat the surrounding towns with fine ash particulates. Modern coal plants have so little coming out of the chimneys that it is often difficult to tell if they are even active or not at any given time of day. No one in the surrounding area of the plant is likely to notice any difference with the plant in operation.

      A quick check of power plants in Maryland and Virigia lists 12 coal fired power plants currently in operation with a combined generating capacity of about 9,300 megawatts. It's a nice area out there, I've been in the DC/Baltimore area hundreds of times as I have many friends in the region. That's with all those plants operating. The Rockwool plant is not going to detroy the area, it won't even make any measurable difference.

      Does all that mean I'm some huge proponent of coal energy? Not really, I'd love to see other options be more utilized. The reality though is that it takes energy to make products, and often times a LOT of energy -- much more than many people realize. People tend to get upset sometimes because they don't understand the scale of industry.

      Bill

      1. Expert Member
        Rick Evans | | #20

        Bill,

        Your thoughts have been really helpful. When I read the data regarding the environmental impact, it did sound pretty bad- especially for a product that is often touted as one of the greener, mainstream insulation options. Opening the factory in West Virginia is also a red flag for me given the state's history with the environment.

        You have definitely put this into context for us and I feel a bit better about it.

        Nevetheless, Rockwool has lost a bit of it's luster with me given the far greener options available (cellulose and wood fiber). I also notice that Owens Corning is now making dense pack fiberglass in a facility that is 100% wind powered! I used their L77 product in my house and really liked it. It is around 55% post consumer recycled and 18% pre consumer recycled, whatever that means.

        Nothing beats Rockwool's fire resistance and hydrophopic qualities though.

      2. EPmountaineer | | #27

        Rockwool insulation batting is far from being a necessary product. The remaining coal fired power plants serve millions of people and tens of thousands of businesses and industries. They are also a good tax base, and provide thousands of good jobs. They're still awful polluters even with the pollution control improvements. All coal burning industries still have enormous amounts of invisible (to the human eye) and very health hazardous particulates coming out of the stacks. This as proposed Rockwool factory will be no different, it will dumping lots of unacceptable hazardous air pollutants into Jefferson County. Attached is this factory's list of approved pollutants, which were approved by WV's coal-executive-run DEP. I'd expect it from a 1970s factory, but it is outrageous for a new factory scheduled to be completed in late 2020! We have existing technology that could make those emissions nearly zero, but we're stupidly not requiring them.

        We need to be getting away from burning coal, not adding more coal burning industries. Especially because we keep adding more and more people, vehicles, cows, and other major sources of pollution to this planet.

    2. Russell Miller | | #21

      Once again, LIES AND TRUTH MIXED

      1. Expert Member
        Deleted | | #23

        Deleted

  11. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #18

    >"Rockwool has the ability to use arc-furnace technology as they are installing in other plants around the world including France. However, WV has the coal and they got a sweetheart deal with all kinds of incentives and tax exemptions.
    The anger at elected officials and "friends of coal" (Who lead the State and Federal EPA) is at the heart of this controversy. "

    It reads like the real argument is with those offering the sweetheart deals and incentives, more so than the manufacturer. They are in the end a business, and are required to make a profit to stay in business. If the "friends of coal" et al have made it easier for Rockwool Int'l to make money by siting it there and use coal rather than arc furnaces for the process heat at the expense of the health of the local community, it's really more on the incentivizers.

    That said, arc furnaces operating off a largely coal-fired grid at 30% efficiency dumps a lot MORE crap into the environment than burning coal on-site for process heat at 80% efficiency. It's a matter of whose back yard is getting that load o' crap. Nobody wants a coal burner (power plant or coal furnace) in their back yard if they can help it. Only if WV's grid was a heluva lot cleaner than it currently is there would be a broader argument for making them use arc furnaces rather than coal.

    https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=WV#tabs-4

    >"For Rockwool's part, they are, in my opinion, blatantly green-washing their product. The have an incredibly energy intensive manufacturing process that is a huge polluter. "

    For it to qualify as "...green-washing..." there has to be apples to apples comparisons with similar products. All insulation product come with an environmental footprint. Rock wool manufacturing isn't even close to the heaviest, even if they are burning coal for process heat.

    I can't really blame people in Jefferson County for pushing back on this siting decision- nobody wants to turn their clean rural location into a center of energy intensive industry if the local economy is already functioning well. From the cited article in this post:

    ------------
    “The issue is that our regulations are weak,” noted 22-year-old Aaron Hackett. “We have to stop selling out West Virginia, take the 'for sale' sign off our state and create jobs and preserve clean air, clean water. They’re not mutually exclusive. We can absolutely do both.”
    ------------

    The problem lies primarily with the regulations/regulators. Fixing that requires some serious politickin' in a state with a long established and powerful fossil fuel biz and a statehouse full of their lobbyists.

    1. Russell Miller | | #22

      I encourage you and all people, before making statements about WV coal and power grid, to verify the information you get your facts and thoughts from.

      The past 5 yrs have RAPIDLY CHANGED wv coal industry and power source(s)

    2. John Clark | | #31

      My own funny story about coal. I obtained my BS from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and the school was literally located across the street from an on-campus coal powered heating plant. My dorm was just up the street from both and in the mornings our vehicles would sometimes have a slight dusting of coal ash.

      Oh the irony.

  12. user-6975140 | | #28

    I really liked Roxul’s Rockwool, after reading this article they seem to focus on buying politicians in poor states and not being a good corporate citizens. Other options?
    https://boe.jeff.k12.wv.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_481531/File/Parents/Rockwool/Rockwool%20Fact%20Sheet-November%201,%202018.pdf

    1. Expert Member
      Zephyr7 | | #29

      Every company tries to get the best deal they can. Many politicians have their hands out. This is an unfortunate reality pretty much anywhere. I’m not sure you can really find anything that is made entirely with upstanding ethics.

      If you want an alternate supplier of mineral wool, Owens Corning (pink panther brand :-) is also commonly available. Many people find rock wool’s product a little nicer to work with though. I personally usually use the Owens Corning’s mineral wool product myself, just because it’s cheaper. I’ve had no problems with it.

      Bill

    2. John Clark | | #30

      It's a low margin product so labor costs have a huge impact on viability of the business. The only other manufacturer of rockwool is located somewhere near Missouri or Mississippi.

      Politicians in "rich" states get bought off all the time by limousine liberals. Ya, know spending billions of dollars on high speed rail, making the lives of the poor and middle class harder.

      There's a lot of excess labor capacity in rural states. After all not everyone can be a fcking doctor or government (Local,State, Federal) employee living off current and future taxpayers.

    3. Robert Opaluch | | #32

      "Politicians in poor states", could also be stated as "Politicians in pro-coal states".

      A minority in West Virginia opposes the coal industry for various reasons, or maybe opposes coal usage only in their own backyard (for very good reasons). However I can't think of any state that is more pro-coal in political action than West Virginia. If the state promotes coal, maybe the corporations or end products aren't the villain. Explain coal's negatives to the voters and politicians who promote "saving" the coal industry from its unstoppable demise? Or have the pro-coal voters and politicians explain to those of us who promote solar and wind power, or promote passive buildings, or have coal-related lung disease, or who are concerned about our environment: Where IS burning coal better than cleaner renewables? (I think the answer might be "in past centuries when there were far fewer human beings")

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