© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

Peabody hopes to keep its coal industry from decline with a donation to UW research

Coal seam at Peabody's North Antelope Rochelle Mine
Peabody Energy

A top coal producer in Wyoming is donating money to the University of Wyoming (UW) to help fund research into future uses of coal, which the coal industry and state are hedging their bets that these discoveries will keep the resource from going obsolete.

Coal production in Wyoming has gone down by almost half since 2008 and several units in the state are already scheduled for closure. Without significant changes, coal production will not meet the country’s climate goals. But, some in the state are very hopeful.

“Never say never in the energy sector,” Holly Krutka, executive director of the UW School of Energy Resources (SER), said. “There was a time when, when we thought that peak oil had happened, we thought nuclear wasn't going to be a big player, and natural gas was too scarce. And so for technology innovators, we just can't give up.”

Coal producer Peabody recently announced it will donate $500,000, plus one cent per ton of Wyoming coal sold indefinitely, to the SER program, which is home to the Center for Carbon Capture and Conversion.

The money will partly fund ‘carbon management,’ which includes carbon capture, utilization and storage. Peabody and the state are hopeful the somewhat polarizing technology will help coal become a sustainable energy resource, as coal production is a top contributor to greenhouse gasses.

“The world has ambitious sustainability goals, and the impressive work researchers at SER are doing is critical to achieving those goals,” Peabody President and CEO Jim Grech said in a press release. “We are proud to be a leader in supporting this research and grateful for the work SER is doing.”

Krutka said UW research on carbon capture is extensive and nearing the phase of ‘handing the baton’ to the commercial sector. She said the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has received interest for permitting the type of wells needed to inject carbon into the subsurface – which is the carbon ‘storage’ part of the equation.

“This year of 2023, they're expecting around 40 of those permit applications to be filed. Just a few years ago, there were none,” Krutka said.

Peabody’s money will also go toward ‘carbon engineering,’ which looks at

other alternative uses for coal – this could include construction materials and asphalt. SER recently broke ground on a coal refinery that will create feedstock for these products.

“We're kind of working on everything we can think of, to stem that decline, and so that I feel like that's our role,” Krutka said.

And even if coal continues to decline, Krutka said there are a lot of ways Wyoming can diversify its energy sector – including rare earth mineral mining and nuclear power.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
Related Content