A Signature Part
Of The New Plant
-- And Landscape
BY RICH JONES
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
The massive absorption tower for the US Nitrogen plant took its place Thursday among Greene County landmarks in a maneuver that appeared so easy as to belie the planning, work and complexity of the project.
The lift of the 330,000-pound tower onto its foundation represented a "milestone event" for the construction project, said US Nitrogen project manager Justin Freeark.
It is also an engineering feat of considerable scope.
Only three days earlier, the 137-foot tower -- now the tallest structure in Greene County -- had been sitting in a barge yard in Knoxville.
On a hot and muggy morning, it took just a little more than an hour for the tower to be righted and carefully secured into its upright position, assuming its place as a signature piece of the US Nitrogen plant -- and the landscape of western Greene County.
CROWD LOOKS ON
Dozens of local elected officials, other community leaders and invited guests looked on from a viewing tent about 300 yards away.
"I've been waiting on this day for over a year now," said C&C Millwright Maintenance Co. project manager Rodney Long, whose proud father, Paul Long, looked on from the shade of the viewing tent.
Rodney Long was the supervisor in charge of the crucial alignment and the seating of the 20 large anchor bolts that fastened the tower to the concrete foundation.
A year of work for Long and his crew had gone into preparation for this moment when the tower was lowered by a mammoth crane onto the foundation.
NO ROOM FOR ERROR
The last 22 inches were critical.
The tower had to fit within a tolerance of one-sixteenth of an inch on all the anchor bolts around the 14-foot-diameter base of the tower.
Long and Rick Greene, vice president for construction at C&C Millwright, were both in the field at the time.
Their work, and that of all crews involved, were praised by C&C Millwright President Jerry Fortner.
"Rick started on the project a little over a year ago, and Rodney did, too," Fortner said. "Rodney (and his crew) set the bolts in concrete. We're happy with how it turned out."
QUICK, AND ACCURATE
The raising of the tower began at exactly 10:17 a.m. and was completed at 11:21 a.m.
Precision was a necessity throughout the project.
Freeark said that, when erected, the 137-foot tower had to be plumb to less than an inch all the way to the top.
By Thursday afternoon, Fortner said that surveyors had completed their assessment and verified that the tower was plumb to within the standards.
At one point in the lift of the tower, more than one million pounds of weight had to be suspended by the crane and its counter-weight, Freeark said.
"You might see this type of thing on 'Extreme Engineering' on the Discovery Channel," Freeark, an engineer himself, had said during introductory remarks prior to the lifting of the tower.
"This was a landmark day for our team at US Nitrogen," Freeark said.
"We are appreciative to the many people who worked so hard to get the tower to our site and our neighbors in Greene County for welcoming us so warmly."
The absorption tower began its journey to Greene County by traveling via barge from Lake Charles, La., up the Mississippi and then to Knoxville on the Tennessee River.
From there, the tower was transported to the Midway plant by a large hauling rig supported by a convoy of vehicles.
It arrived late Tuesday night.
THE PROCESS EXPLAINED
The absorption tower will play a key role in the creation of nitric acid at the plant.
Processed gas will be introduced into the bottom of the tower and water will be added through the top.
The two substances are combined under 100 pounds of pressure, and the water absorbs the processed gas and creates nitric acid.
Company officials have been asked in recent months by The Greeneville Sun about challenges that US Nitrogen faces when it comes to the use of water, disposal of chemicals, and protection of the water table, and measures the company is taking to avoid pollution.
"We are not going to discharge anything into the ground," Freeark has said.
Or, as Hollie Binkley, US Nitrogen Environmental Manager, said in a recent interview: "We don't have any chemicals to dispose of, because everything we make, we use, or ship out."
HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?
Here's how the process works.
US Nitrogen is in business to make liquid ammonium nitrate.
Ammonium nitrate is produced by combining nitric acid and anhydrous ammonia.
That process creates ammonium nitrate -- and heat.
During the process of creating the ammonium nitrate, 100 percent of the nitric acid and anhydrous ammonia is consumed, said Freeark, a chemical engineer.
Therefore, no chemical byproduct exists to be disposed of, because none exists. That's because it was consumed during the process that created the ammonium nitrate.
HEAT IS OFFSET
What about the heat? The answer is that the heat is offset -- cooled down -- by the massive amounts of water that US Nitrogen will send through miles of cooling pipes in the absorption tower.
On cold days in the winter, the end result of that cooling part of the process will be seen as simple water vapor rising from the plant's 14-story-high tower, company officials have said.
What about the ammonium nitrate produced?
It will be shipped out via company trucks to other facilities out of state operated by Austin Powder Company, the parent company of US Nitrogen.
BASIC WATER TREATMENT
Binkley was asked by The Greeneville Sun if there were any chemicals in the water, or any chemicals placed in the water during the process to make the ammonium nitrate.
She said basic water treatment chemicals -- water softeners, such as a homeowner might use -- are introduced to reduce mineral buildup in the pipes.
"We'll be monitoring all the Tennessee Division of Water Pollution Control guidelines for disposal of effluent water to make sure we're meeting standards," Binkley said.
Construction at the US Nitrogen site off Pottertown Road began last year and is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
Company officials have said the project will involve about 200 workers during the construction phase.
The plant will employ 80 persons and have an annual payroll of $4 million, officials have said.
US Nitrogen officials said Thursday that persons interested in employment can consult http://www.usnitrogen.com about job possibilities.