GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — North America's second-largest producer of baking soda is working to boost production at its Colorado plant while it looks to research how to commercially develop oil shale in the state.
Natural Soda Inc., a subsidiary of Natural Resources USA Corp., mines sodium bicarbonate in Rio Blanco County from what the company says are one of the largest known deposits of nahcolite in the world. It is working to double production capacity to 250,000 tons per year.
Church & Dwight, which markets baking soda under the Arm & Hammer brand, is the leader in North America's 700,000-ton-a-year baking soda market.
"Right now we are pretty much selling it as we are making it," Natural Soda's production superintendent Carl Meyer told The Daily Sentinel (http://bit.ly/phDGzN). The company's salespeople "can sell as much as we can possibly make," he said.
At its plant near Rifle this year, Natural Soda installed a boiler that should boost capacity by 30,000 tons a year and produce twice the heating ability of two existing boilers with less air pollution. The company is spending $5 million this year on the boiler, a heat-transfer system and related infrastructure.
It plans next year to build a new processing plant geared toward the food industry, at a cost of up to $34 million, The Daily Sentinel reported.
Baking soda has more than 500 uses in up to 10 industries. It can be used in hemodialysis to clean blood in people with bad kidneys or to reduce smokestack emissions. This year, it was used to help remove graffiti in Dallas before the Super Bowl.
In addition to baking soda production, the company is looking at commercially developing oil shale in northwest Colorado. It has applied with the Bureau of Land Management for a research development and demonstration lease on federal land.
Companies haven't yet found a commercially viable way to heat the kerogen in oil shale to produce oil in the United States. The company wants to test a method of heating and producing kerogen remaining in shale underground after the nahcolite has been removed.
Brad Bunnett, Natural Soda's president, said the company doesn't yet know if it has the answer to making oil shale development commercially viable, "but I think we've got some good ideas."
Natural Resources USA is publicly traded but said its majority owner, Canadian-based Green SEA Resources Inc., plans to make an offer to privatize the company. The baking soda subsidiary has about 40 workers, but employment was expected to grow by as much as 20 percent once the expansion is complete.
Natural Resources reported net income of $1.27 million on revenues of about $22 million in fiscal 2010, compared with a $5.86 million net loss on revenue of about $19.8 million in the previous fiscal year.