Some state legislators are concerned about the market impacts of Advanced Carbon Products Innovation Center (ACPIC), a non-profit center aimed to be a home for advanced carbon-related research at the Fort Union Industrial Park near Gillette.
Ideas generated at the center could go to the pilot and pre-commercial phases and could include carbon nanotubes, graphene, and asphalt. ACPIC already has its first round of seed funding which includes $1.5 million coming from the Wyoming Business Council.
In ACPIC's report in front of the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee Monday, co-chairman and Worland Representative Mike Greear asked whether there were safeguards to prevent the center from interfering in private markets, especially given its funding from the Wyoming Business Council.
“If someone’s pursuing something privately and they’ve invested R&D within their company, that we are not cutting them off at the knees or unintentionally competing with them when we do some state-funded business development or economic development,” Greear said.
Phil Christopherson, CEO of Energy Capital Economic Development which conceived of ACPIC, said there are no safeguards.
“But I don’t know if we want safeguards. We want this technology to bloom and blossom whether it goes to Ramaco or it comes to us, we want that coal to be used,” he said.
Ramaco Resources is a similar advanced-carbon focused business that’s just starting up. Christopherson added the center would step out of the way if a private entity it has supported starts flourishing. He added there’s plenty of room in the market for Ramaco and ACPIC. Albany County Senator Chris Rothfuss says there are safeguards within the Wyoming Business Council, which has given money to the center.
Majority Floor Leader Drew Perkins explained that his concern with greater investment stems from past companies that have taken millions of dollars in government money and then left, “and we got bupkis out of that $7 million. So, what we’re trying to do is learn from our mistakes so they’re not repeated in the future.”
The center was not asking for money at the meeting, but outlined the need for upfront operating cost subsidies, around $150,000 needed in the first two years. Campbell County and the city of Gillette’s operational subsidy contribution is still pending, but the University of Wyoming’s share has been committed. An application for funding from the U.S. Economic Development administration is still pending. ACPIC is still looking for $1.6 million.