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The Wyoming Innovation Center in Campbell County receives an award for overcoming adversity

Wyoming Innovation Center Overcoming Adversity award
Phil Christopherson
Energy Capital Economic Development
Energy Capital Economic Development CEO Phil Christopherson (left) accepts the 'Overcoming Adversity' award on behalf of the Wyoming Innovation Center (WyIC) from Mid-America Economic Development Council president Keith Gillenwater (right) at the Mid-America Competitiveness Conference on Dec. 2 in Chicago, Ill. The WyIC was the winner of the award for a small community, classified as having a population of less than 50,000.

The Wyoming Innovation Center (WyIC), a coal commercialization facility near Gillette, is the recipient of the ‘Overcoming Adversity’ award from theMid-America Economic Development Council. The award recognizes a project, initiative, or best practices of a community, region, or state to overcome challenges they face, which can be economic, budgetary, pandemic-related, and from natural disasters and supply chain disruptions.

There are two classifications for this specific award, which include large communities with populations over 50,000 and small communities, with populations less than that. Gillette’s population is around 34,000.

“Campbell County and the state of Wyoming, we've seen a lot of adversity primarily because of the downturn of the coal industry, [and the] up and down the oil and gas industry,” said Phil Christopherson, CEO of Energy Capital Economic Development. “So, our project, theWyoming Innovation Center is an effort by our community to overcome adversity and charter a strong path forward for our future.”

The Wyoming Innovation Center’s goal is to provide facilities for private companies and researchers to find ways to use coal for commercially viable products, such as bricks, graphite, carbon fiber, and asphalt and provide a future for the state’s coal industry. The Powder River Basin is the country’s most productive coal-producing region, but coal production has experienced significant declines in previous years, though they’ve been buoyed somewhat by increased production during the pandemic. There is approximately 165 billion tons of recoverable coal in this region.

“Our community is determined to create proactive solutions to maintain our coal industry and the Wyoming Innovation Center is the perfect example of this,” said Campbell County Commissioner Rusty Bell in a press release. “Carbon Valley’s sustainable coal-related projects will continue to pave the way for our economy.”

The WyIC site encompasses 9.5 acres and hosts two buildings and seven demonstration sites that are intended for private companies and researchers to advance knowledge of coal-to-products and rare earth element processes.

Acoal byproducts facility broke ground in September near the Wyoming Innovation Center at the Fort Union Industrial Park northeast of Gillette. An initiative of Wood, Atlas Carbon, Polaris Asset Corporation and the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, it shares office space at WyIC facilities, though it’s not part of WyIC. However, there is a possibility that they could join together in the future. When completed, it will decompose coal and separate beneficial liquids and solids that can be used to create non-energy products.

Plans for the WyIC are still moving forward. These include welcoming their first major tenant to their facilities. The tenant is the National Engineering Technology Laboratory (NETL). The lab will provide space and access to coal deposits that will allow for additional research and development to be conducted on non-energy uses for coal. It will be the WyIC’s first official project since it was dedicated in June.

“We're still driving forward looking forward to the NETL taking residency [in the] January, February, March timeframe,” Christopherson said. “We continue to get better each day. We're still getting equipment in so we're in good shape moving forward in a good way.”

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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