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State Officials Look To Reignite Coal Demand Through New Facility

State officials and others at the groundbreaking of the Wyoming Innovation Center
Cooper McKim
State officials and others at the groundbreaking of the Wyoming Innovation Center

State officials took another step this week toward accomplishing its long-term vision of transforming the Powder River Basin into aCarbon Valley.

On a hot, cloudless day next to the Atlas Carbon facility outside of Gillette, Gov. Mark Gordon, along with local and university officials, announced the groundbreaking of the Wyoming Innovation Center, a 9.5 acre and 5,500 square foot facility.

Similar to the Integrated Test Center (ITC), the hope for the facility is to attract businesses at an early stage and help them bridge the "valley of death' - a critical moment in a young companies timeline.

Unlike the ITC, the Wyoming Innovation Center won't be a hub for young carbon capture utilization and sequestration (CCUS) companies. Instead, it hopes to support companies that will turn coal into products.

Rusty Bell, Campbell County Commissioner, sees coal-to-products as a quicker way to address decreasing coal demand than CCUS.

"There's a lot of point sources for CO2, almost every manufacturing, every power plant has point source CO2," he said. "Not everywhere has [an] abundant supply of carbon or coal. We're sitting on this resource and we can use this resource for other products."

Phil Christopherson, CEO of Energy Capital Economic Development, said the benefit of a site like this is it takes technology out of the lab and puts it to practical use "so we can extend the life of our coal mines, find alternate uses for coal, and use that as a raw material for manufacturing plants."

The first tenant announced for the site will be the National Energy Technology Laboratory which is expected to move in at the end of 2021.

Dr. Holly Krutka, the Executive Director of the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources (SER), said the site can support larger projects than the university can. She hopes SER can host projects at the site as well.

"The School of Energy Resources is working on new technologies to create new products from coal, things like construction materials, asphalt replacement, and much more. And we aim to test that technology here as well," she said.

Christopherson said it took about 4.5 years to raise the necessary funds to make the Center a reality.

"We have a long way to go, but we're excited that we have the funding and we're under construction," he said.

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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