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By Hannah Romero

New soda ash project

Ciner and WE Soda announce Project West solution mining facility will be built near GR


October 13, 2022

WE Soda

Ciner and WE Soda Ltd, a Ciner company, have announced a new soda ash project which will be coming to Green River in the next decade.

Project West is the name of a new greenfield soda ash project which will use in-situ mining, also known as solution mining. The new project will be located outside of Green River near WE Soda's Pacific Soda project. Pacific, which used to be OCI, was bought by Ciner in 2015 and ran by them until last December, when they entered a partnership with Sisecam.

The new soda ash facility will be built on separate mineral leases which are 100% owned by WE Soda. The site will start by producing approximately three million tons of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, and eventually the total greenfield expansion in Wyoming will be up to about 8.3 million tons of soda ash production, according to Oguz "Oz" Erkan, the Ciner US CEO.

Project West is expected to bring about 300 permanent jobs to the area, according to Erkan. Initially the facility will need closer to 350 employees, which will eventually cut down to closer to 300 once the team has more experience.

Indirectly, the project will create approximately 2,000 construction jobs throughout the next five to six years, Erkan estimated.

"It will definitely drive additional employment," he said.

Since the project will create new job opportunities in the area, Erkan expects it to also impact and expand other industries like housing and education as people come in to fill the jobs. Ciner also hopes to keep working with the community to expand economic growth.

"We're looking into partnering with the University of Wyoming, the community college, as well as local communities as much as possible," Erkan said.

Partnering with the community is an important part of Ciner and WE Soda's mission, according to Erkan. He will be based out of Kemmerer for the life of the project, and said the other key personnel in the project will be located in Kemmerer, Green River, or other nearby places.

"This is not a remote control thing," Erkan said. "You get hands-on, you become part of the community, like we have been since 2015, and then you make it work with the community. So that's what we believe, and we're practicing what we say."

WE Soda hopes to have the new facility up and running by 2030.

The new project is exciting because WE Soda and Ciner are "unleashing the potential over here in Wyoming," Erkan said.

Several things will make the new Project West facility unique, according to Erkan, including the abilities to expand over time, incorporate renewable energy and have more efficient use of resources like water and power.

Many of the project's benefits come from its use of solution mining techniques.

Solution mining involves leaving minerals where they are in the ground and recovering them by dissolving them and pumping the solution to the surface. This eliminates the need for thousands of miles of underground chambers like in other mines, Erkan explained, and makes the facility mostly a surface operation.

"You're actually having no presence underground, besides the caverns you create," Erkan said. "So you do section by section. You recover the section that you work on, and then you go to the next one. And then you can continue to expand."

The ability to continue expanding will allow Project West to scale capacity and increase production over time, Erkan explained.

"We are securing a facility surface location where we can continue to expand," Erkan said.

Solution mining also makes it easier to go even deeper into the earth than is cost-effective with conventional mining, which Erkan said allows access to a purer product that needs less filtering and processing.

"You get to the heart of the beds that have the thickest and the purest form of trona," he explained.

While being more cost-effective, solution mining also increases efficiency in use of water, energy, and other resources. Project West also plans to utilize renewable energy opportunities, including solar and wind energy, so the facility can continue to produce responsibly, according to Erkan.

Ciner has other mines and soda ash investments overseas where they have successfully used solution mining, Erkan explained. This will also be the fourth greenfield project Ciner will be doing globally. While versions of solution mining exist here, it isn't fully practiced in Wyoming yet.

"How lucky we are, that we are opening that door," Erkan said.

Being in Wyoming, "we sit on a very special place, a very special reserve," Erkan said.

Wyoming has the largest natural trona deposit in the world, and currently has enough trona to continue production for the next 2,000 years, according to Erkan. Only Turkey is comparable as one of the cheapest soda ash production zones. Other natural trona resources aren't big enough to produce enough soda ash or have any capacity for expansion, Erkan explained, and while many countries have projects creating synthetic soda ash, they aren't as cost-efficient as natural soda ash.

Soda ash is currently Wyoming's biggest export, and Erkan believes, "Why not make it even bigger?"

"The world's demand for soda ash on average is growing approximately 2.5 to 3% each year," Erkan explained.

In 2021 the demand was 63 million tons, and it's expected the demand will go up to 75 to 83 million tons, according to Erkan. The demand is growing for multiple reasons, including the growth of industries soda ash currently serves, such as flat glass, glass packaging, detergents, and pharmaceuticals, as well as new industries finding uses for soda ash, including production of lithium batteries and photovoltaic glass for solar panels.

The world demand also drives the need to export soda ash to other countries, according to Erkan, and Project West will be uniquely equipped to meet this need. While the soda ash facility is being built in Wyoming, a port in Stockton, California will be built simultaneously. The port will start with about seven million tons of capacity and eventually have up to 14 million tons of capacity. This port, along with Ciner's shipping container projects, will allow soda ash to be exported more quickly and efficiently, Erkan explained. Having ports and shipping facilities owned by Ciner and WE Soda not only makes the process easier but also helps keep jobs within the United States, Erkan said.

Both the United States as a country and Wyoming as a state need to jump on the opportunity to expand the soda ash industry, Erkan believes, because the timing is crucial with the increase in demand and Wyoming has the unique ability and opportunity to step in to help meet the need.

"We can wait and watch China or Russia improve synthetics and then capture those opportunities, or we can take action today as a state, as a country, and go and get those customers, get those resources, utilize our reserves to be able to supply the entire world," Erkan said. "And I don't see why not. Waiting on the sidelines and watching this happening for another sixty years is not our way of doing things. So we will do it."


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