St. Louis and its surrounding area are home to numerous renowned landmarks, including the Gateway Arch, Busch Stadium, and the St. Louis Zoo. Some residents may not realize it, but the metropolis recently added another unique structure to its repertoire: the SunCoke Energy Metallurgical Coke Manufacturing/Heat Energy Recovery Facility. Located on a 300-acre site just 6 mi from St. Louis in the suburb of Granite City, Ill., the $290-million plant produces 650,000 tons of blast furnace coke annually and is only the sixth factory of its kind in the world.

“The facility contains 120 computer-monitored, heat-recovery ovens that employ SunCoke’s negative pressure technology to convert anthracite coal into blast furnace coke to meet the fuel needs of U.S. Steel, a steel producer with operations in the United States, Canada, and Central Europe,” explains Mike Maxwell, project manager for Guarantee Electrical, the St. Louis-headquartered electrical contractor that provided power and supplied all process/instrumentation wiring, equipment commissioning, lighting, and voice/data services for the project.

According to SunCoke Energy, the metallurgical coke produced at the facility is rated the highest quality in the world. In addition, the process is cited as the “gold standard” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), because pollutants generated while the coal is baked are incinerated inside the ovens, eliminating the need for a chemical byproducts plant and disposal of hazardous waste.

“Better yet, the process generates 500,000 lb of steam per hour, which is then routed to a co-generation facility at the neighboring U.S. Steel Granite City Works,” says Maxwell. “The steam produced by the SunCoke plant generates 65MW of electricity annually.”

Drawing on the experience of 170 electricians, Guarantee Electrical crews spent 18 months on the project, terminating 25,000 wires; installing 161 lineal mi of electrical cable and 3 lineal mi of cable tray; wiring more than 2,200 instruments; laying 7.5 lineal mi of underground conduit; installing 5.5 lineal mi of ground wiring; powering 1.5 lineal mil of coal/coke conveyors; building four electrical rooms with 5kV switchgear and 480V motor control centers; energizing six 1,200-psi steam generators,120 coke ovens, and a flue gas desulfarization plant; wiring a coke wharf, quench tower, and coke-screening station; and enabling a high-speed fiber-optic communication system. Furthermore, the contractor distributed 15,000kVA of power at 5kV across the site.

To help keep the project on schedule, the company performed as much prefabrication as possible of conduit, cable tray, support brackets, as well as a significant percentage of wire pulls and lighting.

“Access to the job site was limited and, due to modifications in the original installation schematic, we experienced a four-month delay,” notes Maxwell. “The ability to prefab helped us meet owner and EPA deadlines, as did the creation of explicit instruction documents for the tasks of a given workday, which were distributed to craft workers.”

In addition to the unforeseen construction delay, an extremely tight job site teeming with nearly 1,000 workers also posed challenges. To keep its employees safe, Guarantee Electrical employed a full-time safety director and implemented a stringent safety program.

“The program included daily morning job-site safety huddles with pre-task planners, weekly safety meetings, and a peer-policing system that required workers who observed an unsafe act or procedure to record the specifics of the incident on a white note card and present the card to the foreman,” says Maxwell. “We also established a rewards program for the crews, such as free lunches and apparel, when safety milestones were met.”

Thanks to strict adherence to these policies, only one OSHA-recordable incident occurred during the 174,000 man-hours that were logged on the high-risk project.

In recognition of the contractor’s hard work at overcoming a compressed schedule and significant safety threats, the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of St. Louis awarded Guarantee Electrical’s work on the SunCoke Energy Metallurgical Coke Manufacturing/Heat Energy Recovery as the Project of the Year, Facility Specialty Contractor — Industrial/Infrastructure Construction Project $5 million or more, at the 2010 Construction Keystone Awards on Nov. 3, 2010.