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An economic development organization is denied funds for a coal research and diversification project

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Energy Capital Economic Development
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Energy Capital Economic Development (ECED), a non-profit organization in Gillette, had its proposal for federal Build Back Better funding denied this week.

The proposal titled, "Move Wyoming Forward," requested $500,000 for a coal-to-products technical assistance grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) that would have provided additional funding for several projects at the Wyoming Innovation Center, a coal research and diversification facility located north of Gillette.

ECED CEO Phil Christopherson said that he doesn’t know why their proposal was denied.

"It was interesting that none of the four proposals from Wyoming were selected," he said. "Some people are saying that ‘Oh, it was a political decision. I have no idea—I just don’t know what the reason could have been."

Though the proposal was unsuccessful, Christopherson stated that the organization’s plans and projects will continue and are not dependent on the EDA grant. This includes the Wyoming Innovation Center north of Gillette, which is slated to open Jan. 31.

Christopherson said the aim of the facility is to research other uses for coal.

"We've been working towards the idea of advanced carbon products for a number of years," he stated. "[We've been] working with [the] University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources to take coal and use it for new things: graphene, carbon fiber, activated carbon, a whole host of products."

The hope is that these products will eventually be able to hit the market.

"Be that a coal refinery of sorts or a methodology of taking coal through research that's already been conducted and turn those into products that can be commercially viable and commercially profitable," Christopherson said.

The grant denial has also offered some other positives for ECED.

"Through the grant process, writing the grant, we were able to form some pretty good partnerships with a couple of national organizations," he stated. "And I think that's going to help us in the long run—and so the opportunity did help us."

The other three Wyoming grant proposals came from the University of Wyoming, the City of Cheyenne, and the Wyoming Energy Authority.

Even with the grant's denial that would have funded several projects more fully, there is optimism as to what the future may hold.

"I was disappointed that we weren't awarded it but taking a step back, we were making good progress as it was without the grant," Christopherson said. "And we’ll continue to make good progress without the grant."

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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