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Energy Summit Discusses Future Of Powder River Basin Production, New Uses For Coal

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Wyoming Business Report

Coal could soon be used to make affordable carbon nanomaterials for mass use. The sci-fi sounding production is already used for things like water-resistant coats, electronic displays, or even dyes and pigments. Though, for now, it’s developed with expensive oil or gas feedstocks.

At the Wyoming Energy Summit in Laramie Wednesday, Chris Matranga, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory said coal could soon be used to make the same products at a much cheaper price. Carbon nanomaterial is highly valued because of its unique thermal, optical, and chemical properties. For instance, it could allow cement to better conduct heat in buildings. Matranga said coal’s low-cost could be a game-changer.

“These materials cost 20 bucks a gram to 100 bucks a gram. When you do that for a metric ton that’s 20 million or 100 million dollars.” He added, "Coal provides an opportunity to literally blow that through the water and not think about the manufacturing cost because it’s dirt cheap, processing costs are dirt cheap.”

Matranga said it would also help to add value to coal with the new-found use.

The Energy Summit also featured discussions on the future of oil and gas productivity in the Powder River Basin. A panel of two oil and gas representatives and one for coal explored the risks and opportunities in the northeast basin. Anadarko Petroleum’s Joe Milczewski said the Powder River Basin does still lag behind other regional areas due to its lack of infrastructure.

“That’s an issue we need to work on. As infrastructure builds up you’ll see more investment. You need more infrastructure of gas take-away to make the margins competitive with what we’re seeing against Colorado. I think that’ll happen over time,” Milczewski said.

Anadarko and four other companies are developing a 5,000 well oil and gas project in Converse County. Milczewski said it’s a great area due to the wide-open space without too many wildlife restrictions. Still, all three panelists complained of the inability to drill year-round. Panels at the Summit also touched on renewable energy in the state.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.

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