BUTTE, Mont. — Research by Western Energy Co. to improve the quality of Montana coal may have far-reaching effects on development of the state's vast coal reserves, officials say.
The Montana Power Co. subsidiary has tested a process to dry out the "wet" underground coal deposits in eastern Montana.
Details of the process are secret, said Bill Robinson, a Western Energy vice president, but it is something "the whole world's been looking for."
Montana Power spokesman Dean Conklin said the Western Energy tests may prove to have worldwide significance. "Companies around the world have been looking for this type of thing for years," he said.
Western Energy began working on the project in the mid-1970's, hoping to remove impurities such as sulfur and ash from the coal and reduce its 26% water content.
Under the new process, the officials said, the moisture content has been reduced to about 1%.