Minerals Refining Company



Ash and moisture must be removed from coal before it can be used to make coke for steel production or produce heat for generating electricity. As particle sizes become smaller, the difficulty of removing ash and moisture increases. Hundreds of millions of tons of coal fines have been thrown away in impoundments for lack of a technology to capture them.
Minerals Refining Company’s patented Hydrophobic-Hydrophilic Separation (HHS) process was developed at Virginia Tech by Dr. Roe-Hoan Yoon and research partner Dr. Gerald Luttrell to capture the coal fines and reduce the waste.

How It Works

Coal preparation plants use froth flotation to recover particles that are less than 150 microns (100 mesh) in size. In this method, rising air bubbles are percolated through a slurry of coal and fine rock particles (“ash”). The hydrophobic coal particles, which have been pre-treated with chemicals, are attracted to the bubbles, rise to surface and are skimmed off. The clays and other ash contaminants are hydrophilic and remain in the water, with the mixture sinking to the bottom of the flotation cell for disposal. The attachment force of the hydrophilic coal particles to the bubbles is relatively weak, so recovery of the fine coal is relatively inefficient.

The HHS process uses a light oil, to which coal is naturally attracted, to coat the coal particles. These particles are then attracted to others and they grow into larger groups, forming agglomerates. The attraction force of coal to the oil is much greater than that to the bubble, thus agglomerating coal results in more of the coal being recovered as well a wider size range of particles, up to 0.25 mm (60 mesh) and as small as a single micron or less, being recovered. The lighter-than-water agglomerates float to the surface and, like flotation bubbles, are skimmed off for further processing. At this stage, the recovered agglomerates, which contain trapped water within them are very high in moisture and contain mid-teens ash (which follows the water), are not marketable.

In the next step, MRC’s breakthrough patented HHS technology is able to break the bonds holding the trapped water. This released water is then drained leaving an oil-covered coal with single-digit moisture and ash content. This is sent to a vacuum filter to recover most of the oil, then to a low-temperature evaporator to recover the remainder of the oil, leaving dry coal as the final product. The net result: additional recovered coal fines with lower ash and moisture content than has heretofore been possible.

Here is a simplified schematic of the HHS process:

hhs process

  1. A feed slurry containing recoverable coal is separated from water and ash-forming minerals simultaneously via 2-liquid flotation involving a hydrophobic liquid.
  2. The two liquids are phase separated, leaving the water and ash-forming minerals in the aqueous phase, while the coal is captured in the hydrophobic liquid phase that floats atop the water.
  3. The recovered coal is upgraded using a patented process that removes trapped water and ash.
  4. The hydrophobic liquid is recovered from the upgraded coal and re-used.


MRC’s hydrophobic-hydrophilic separation process has undergone 1200 hours of field testing for the recovery and dewatering of ultrafine coal particles that were being deslimed and sent to the thickener for disposal.

The pilot plant that was located at a coal preparation plant in Southwest Virginia successfully upgraded <45 µm (<325 mesh) deslime-cyclone overflow and recovered the coal as a high-quality product. The slurry feed averaged 58% ash, while the final HHS product was in the range of 4-to-4.5% ash and 5%-to-9% moisture. That compared to an overall quality of 6.5% ash produced by the preparation plant.

For detailed information…

Please review the Paper that was presented by Dr. Roe-Hoan Yoon at the 2016 SME Annual Conference.


Safety is the highest priority for MRC. All commercial HHS plants will be equipped with numerous safety features. Most notably, the HHS Process is performed under a nitrogen-inerting atmosphere.