C&E Concrete saw a window of opportunity in the 1980's to join the greener power generation. With the help from Volvo wheel loaders and articulated haulers they are able to contribute to the greener power movement by extracting limestone that is used by coal power plants to scrub exhaust emissions and for dust control in underground coal mines to prevent explosions.
The parched earth of central New Mexico once yielded uranium for the country’s nuclear power generation. While uranium mining has been dormant for decades, today a more common mineral is quarried to produce a cleaner and safer form of energy.
Grants, New Mexico is a 90-minute drive into the high desert west of Albuquerque. Just south of Grants, C&E Concrete, Inc. is extracting a pure form of limestone that is ground into rock dust used by coal power plants to scrub exhaust emissions and for dust control in underground coal mines to prevent explosions.
The DNA of this specific deposit of limestone, known as the Tinaja Pit, is 98% calcium carbonate, making it a super-effective agent to absorb sulfur and fine particulates from the air. (Tinaja in Spanish refers to a large, porous water jar).
At the heart of this high production, high corrosive environment is Volvo Construction Equipment wheel loaders, articulated hauler trucks and excavators that move 4,000 tons of rock each day.
The Tinaja pit also supplies an assortment of C&E Concrete sub-companies whose products include ready-mix, asphalt, crushed stone and gravel and sand. More than 700,000 tons of stone is extracted every year.
It’s a long haul from 1974 when a few concrete trucks and batch plant were the core of Walter and Norma Meech’s business venture.
Governmental regulations and public wariness shifted American views on energy in the early 1980s.This opened a window of new opportunity, says the couple’s son and current president, Walter Lee Meech. The Clean Coal Technology Program was an early driver of greener power generation. For older coal-fired power plants this included installing scrubber systems in the smokestacks to filter sulfur from the exhaust.
“In 1985, Plains Electric built a power plant in nearby Prewitt, New Mexico and the project manager needed a source for limestone that would pass the qualifications required for the power plant emissions,” he says.
Walter Sr. turned to the local unemployed uranium geologists to help scout a source. One day while he was driving near the Tinaja pit, Walter noticed limestone being used for a Bureau of Land Management road job. He scooped a sample and took it to the power plant chemical engineer for testing. The limestone was almost pure calcium carbonate. It was gold for C&E Concrete, who purchased the 1600-acre property and set up full-time quarry and crushing operations.
“The upper grade of this formation is about 85% calcium carbonate but the lower part, which is the bottom 35-40 feet, is as high as 97-98% calcium carbonate and that is what makes it such a valuable commodity for power plants to use in scrubbers to remove sulfur,” he says.
More recently, C&E began supplying an ultra-fine grind of rock dust that is used by underground coal mines that neutralizes coal dust to reduce the risk of ignition. To achieve this level of quality, C&E uses a custom Raymond roller mill. “We can produce 17-20 tons an hour of rock dust,” he says.
“As we increased volumes, using wheel loaders to move the stone down the mountain and load the crushers was not effective. So we purchased six Volvo articulated end dumps, size 25 to 40 tons, and now use those trucks to haul the rock down to the crusher,” Walter says. The Volvo haulers range from an A25C to A40D. Working at 7500 feet elevation on 21% grades puts added stressors on equipment. “We found that the Volvo haulers are just beefier and the braking systems are better. We tried competitor haulers and they could not hold the loads on a hill; the trucks wanted to roll. The Volvo haulers do not do that,” he says.
“We could put more material into the trucks, but right now what we are limited by is the capacity of the Universal Impact 4454 crusher,” which is permitted for 600 tons per hour. “We estimate based on current limestone consumption that the volume of life here is about 400 years,” Walter says.
C&E Concrete operates 18 Volvo machines to load articulated and tri-axle trucks at its quarry, batch and asphalt plants. They also push material and build pads, each averaging 2000 hours per year.
At the Tinaja pit, a 2015 L350F is the primary loader for the end dump. Fitted with a 10.0 yd3 spade nose bucket, it carries 26,190 pounds on average. While the L350F is the youngest fleet member it is already earning its keep and then some, averaging fuel savings of 40-45 gallons per day.
“When we did the research on the L350… we were looking at saving $1,000 month just on fuel. Plus on our older L330D loader we were spending $2,000 per month in maintenance, so by buying a new piece of equipment it was making its own payments. It’s a huge savings on our part,” Walt says.
Ed Morlan is the Crusher Superintendent at the Tinaja pit. “The crusher environment is harsh for a number of reasons. One is the dust; the dust is hard on engines, it’s hard on bearings and the crushing machines. It eats and tears things up. We have to have equipment that can withstand all of this. Reliability… We have equipment here with almost 40,000 hours and we are still running,” he says.
Continuity amidst change
Walter’s family has owned Volvo equipment and its predecessors since 1969. “Our first piece was a 1955 Michigan loader. We have just had good luck with the Volvo equipment. We have an L150D with over 35,000 hours and the L330 has 41,000, all on the original engines and transmissions,” he says.
Through four decades the Meech family has stayed equally loyal to their local Volvo dealer.
Says Walter, “The way we always look at it, anybody can sell iron. It’s the service side of it. When you break down it’s always at the worst time and you need to get back up as quickly as you can. I have had (other equipment manufacturers) tell me they would be out in two weeks. Golden Equipment and our account rep, Flavio Salazar, have been real good at taking care of us. They come out when we need them and they understand what our needs are.”
Someone who has also been there for Walter is his father.
“My dad is turning 90 and he comes up here twice a week, Tuesday and Friday. Someone with over 70 years of experience in this industry is a wealth of resources. You will never be able to get that from anybody else,” Walter says. The family connections are now stretching to a third generation with his son, Chris, taking an active role in the company.
C&E Concrete is an outlier in an aggregate industry that is dominated by mergers and conglomerations. Their strong personal stake in the success of their operation guides them to stay independent and be faithful stewards of their land.
“We have a lot of agencies we deal with today. When my dad when set up his first batch plant in 1969 you didn’t have to have any permits, you could just set up and go. Now, you need an air quality permit for the crusher, stormwater permits and you deal with MSSHA safety requirements. You have to keep pace with governmental statutes to know what changes you need to make,” Walt says.
For every acre that C&E taps, they reclaim another acre via a replanting project. “It's our way of making sure that, when we do business, we do it in a manner that ensures future generations are able to enjoy the land that has given us so much,” he says.
See the tough environment that C&E Concrete tests our wheel loaders and articulated haulers in and hear from their president - Walter Lee Meech how these machines make their operation possible.