Development of Coke Industry in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico

Portion of "Development of Coke Industry in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico" in AIME Transactions, Volume 61, page 429 (1918-1919)

Discussion by C. H. Gibbs, Geologist for Utah Fuel Company, dated September 14, 1918.

The development of the coke industry in Utah had a somewhat checkered career for the first 50 years of its existence. About 1851 the iron-ore deposits of the Iron Springs and Iron Mountain mining districts, Iron County, Utah, were discovered. Obtaining of iron for any purpose at the time involved its shipment from the Mississippi River to Utah, by ox-team. The result was that the pioneers endeavored to establish an iron-ore smelting plant at what was known as Iron City, near Iron Mountain, in Iron County. Bishop Taylor, who headed this enterprise, endeavored to obtain coal suitable for coking from the Cretaceous coal measures immediately east of Cedar City. A few small beehive coke ovens were built and lump coal was coked in these ovens; or, more properly speaking, the volatile matter of the lump coal was driven off, leaving a carbonized material that retained the lump shape, although it was extremely friable. This coke was promptly found to be unsuitable for iron smelting, not only due to its extreme weakness under smelting load, but also because of the fact that it carried about 5 percent sulfur. Bishop Taylor made a very thorough and exhaustive effort, covering a considerable period of years, to locate suitable coking coal in Southwestern Utah. His efforts failed, and in 1902 the iron-ore property acquired by him and associates was sold to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Co. It is of interest to note in this connection that the iron-ore deposits of Iron County at present are the largest known undeveloped iron-ore fields on the North American continent. It is safe to say that there is at least one hundred million tons of 55 percent ore actually in sight.

In 1878, coal-mining operations were begun at Connellsville, in Huntington Canyon, Emery County. Ten 8-ft. beehive ovens were constructed, and lump coal was carbonized for use in the Salt Lake valley smelters. The product was somewhat better than that obtained in Iron County, but was still of very inferior quality. It had to be hauled a distance of 140 miles by wagon to the two small smelters then operating in Salt Lake valley. These ovens operated only a very short time.

The next move toward obtaining a coking coal was in 1889 when the Pleasant Valley Coal Co. began operations in the Castle Gate district. In 1890, eighty 8-ft. beehive ovens were constructed, and the product was used until 1900 in all the smelters in Utah. During this period, 124 additional ovens were constructed, making a total of 204 beehive ovens operating at Castle Gate.

The Castle Valley coal field was thoroughly prospected during the 1890s for a better quality of coking coal, and in 1898 natural coke was discovered at the present location of Sunnyside. This natural coke was formed by the burning and carbonizing of outcrop coal. Due to its hardness it was uncovered by weathering, which lead to prospecting and the opening of the Sunnyside mines.

The Sunnyside district carries the only genuine coking coal found in Utah. There are several areas in which semi-coking coal occurs, but none that in any way approaches the Sunnyside product either for strength, quality or low ash content. Mining operations were begun at Sunnyside in 1900, and the product was shipped to the ovens at Castle Gate. As soon as the Utah smelters obtained coke made from Sunnyside coal the smelting results were so much more satisfactory than those obtained from the Castle Gate product that the Utah Fuel Co., as rapidly as possible, has increased the Sunnyside output to such an extent that it now takes care of the entire coke requirements of this territory.

The Sunnyside coal ranges in thickness from 5 to 14 ft.; it is hard and blocky; stands weathering well, and is the premier steam fuel coal of Utah. Very little of it, however, has been used for steaming purposes, due to the fact that the entire production of this district is used either for coke making or in by-product gas plants located in Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada. Throughout the coking area the coal shows evidence of considerable movement due to local bending, which is undoubtedly responsible for the fact that the Sunnyside district coal is of coking quality. Wherever the synclinal bending in the Sunnyside district ends, the coking quality of the coal practically disappears. In order to prepare the coal for coke ovens, the entire product is crushed so that it passes a 1/4-in. screen. This crushing serves two purposes: first, that of producing a decidedly more uniform coke, and second, ringwall and breeze losses are materially reduced.

As soon as the good quality of Sunnyside coke became generally known it was shipped not only to Utah, but north to Anaconda and East Helena, Montana; and to Nevada, Idaho, and parts of California.

In 1907 the Castle Gate beehive plant was abandoned, having been replaced by new ovens at Sunnyside. At present the Sunnyside coke-even plant is the largest single beehive operation in the United States, consisting of 819 ovens of 12- and 13-ft. size.

The coke produced carries very low, uniform ash content, and is practically free from sulfur snd phosphorus. Sulfur in the coke will run from 0.7 to 1 per cent., and phosphorus from 0.03 to 0.05 per cent.

An increasing tonnage of this coke is being used in Salt Lake valley and also on the West Coast, for steel making.

The following table gives the annual production of coke in Utah from 1890 to date:

Year Tons
1890 8,395
1891 7,947
1892 7,242
1893 16,007
1894 16,057
1895 22,517
1896 20,449
1897 23,619
1898 28,327
1899 26,882
1900 32,730
1901 39,860
1902 73,230
1903 158,099
1901 156,337
1905 220,706
1906 259,924
1907 317,925
1908 180,074
1909 184,745
1910 150,677
1911 174,000
1912 302,457
1913 332,396
1914 349,898
1915 301,420
1916 424,828
1917 374,775