GREEN RIVER — Ciner Wyoming CEO Oguz Erkan took time with SweetwaterNOW to share his thoughts about the market, the company’s Unit 8 expansion project, and Ciner’s future in solution mining in Green River.
With the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic impacting the economy worldwide, the trona industry has also seen the impacts. Erkan said everyone is taking a financial hit. With soda ash being the company’s main business, they know the business pretty well.
“Ciner is not in Sweetwater County to make this company profitable and sell it to the next big buyer,” Erkan said. “Our biggest value at our plant is our people.”
Erkan said since they are a global organization they were able to brace for the COVID-19 impact and communicate what those impacts might be to the 450 employees who work out at the trona mine.
Despite some financial losses, the company is committed to its long-term projects and they are trying to save as much money as they can through flexing schedules and reducing overtime.
“Our company has a long-term view of the market and demands,” Erkan said. “It is important to us to keep our team together and be ready for the future. Our expansion plans are important, and we will need a strong team to start up new units and train our new team members.”
Soda Ash Market
“It will take a while for the market to recover, but it will recover as has been demonstrated in previous economic downturns,” Erkan said.
Even though the market is in a downturn, the company will continue to focus on being efficient and ready to go when the market turns around.
“We are continuously improving and revisiting our way of operating our plant, innovating new methods to deliver better results,” he said.
Synthetic soda ash is expensive to produce because of the large amount of energy consumed. It also has C02 emissions, double that of natural production, and the water used to produce synthetically is five times that of natural production. This is why natural soda ash has an advantage.
“We have hundreds of years of trona deposits in Southwest Wyoming and we should be producing to meet the world’s soda ash demand right here in Southwest Wyoming,” he said.
Unit 8 Expansion
The Unit 8 additional soda ash production project is still moving forward and is currently in the permitting process, he said. This addition will increase Ciner’s production rate by 1.1 million short tons. Ciner currently produces about 2.7 million short tons of soda ash a year, with the additional 1.1 million tons, they could increase production to 3.8 million short tons a year.
Once the permitting process is done, it will take more than two years to complete the project and have the unit running at full capacity. Erkan said he’s hopeful to have Unit 8 up and running in late 2022. Not only will the construction project provide construction companies with work, but it will add more jobs to Ciner.
“The Unit 8 expansion will add approximately 70 regular full-time employees,” Erkan said.
As for the 10,880 acre solution mining project about 40 miles south of Ciner’s current plant, the company is still moving forward with obtaining the permits for the project. Erkan said the project is divided into 640 acre sections, for a total of 17 sections. The land is located on the southern end of the Known Sodium Lease Area, which is the deepest part of the prehistoric Lake Gosiute and mechanical mining of the trona isn’t feasible.
To extract the trona from the ground, Ciner will use solution mining. Even though solution mining may be a newer concept to this region, Ciner has successfully completed solution mining at two other locations.
“We have two facilities overseas that have been using solution mining technology and have developed substantial expertise with such methods,” Erkan said.
Solution mining is an environmentally friendly process of mining trona by pumping steam underground, dissolving only the trona and pumping the dissolved trona to the surface. Once on the surface the trona is refined into soda ash.
“This environmentally friendly process results in the insoluble materials being left underground,” he said.
This project will add about 600 permanent jobs to Ciner and the company would like to start solution mining by the end of 2024.