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Carbon Engineering Initiative

School of Energy Resources



Investment in pioneering research that promotes original research quests, new concepts and ideas through a seed funding mechanism focusing upon the management of carbon found in fossil energy resources, primarily coal. Integrated fossil fuel conversion to carbon based products focusing on the manufacturing and fabrication processes.


To develop, manufacture and engineer advanced processes to convert coal and coal by-products into molecular intermediates or valuable (non-fuel) carbon materials that may be considered long term carbon sinks and/or co-processed with other hydrocarbon feedstock sources.


June 16, 2016 -- In what many here in fossil fuel-rich Wyoming might view as a well-timed godsend, it was reported last week that a group of researchers in Iceland have discovered a method for physically locking carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in solid rock. Essentially, the process turns gas into “instant” stone. 

March 18, 2016 -- Two research clusters to move the SER Carbon Engineering Initiative forward have been formed. One cluster will focus on converting Wyoming coal to intermediate liquids and solids and the other will focus on identifying products that can be made from these intermediates.

UW Faculty members identified to receive seed funding in this area of research include:

CLUSTER I:  Converting Wyoming coal to intermediate liquids and solids

  • Dr. Dongmei "Katie" Li, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, will focus on solvent systems, extraction and coal sample preparation
  • Dr. Erica Belmont, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, will focus on co-processing of Wyoming coal and biomass
  • Dr. David Bell, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, will focus on super-critical coal processing and coal intermediate characterization
  • Dr. Maohong Fan, SER Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will focus on solid products from coal - high temperature route

CLUSTER II: Identifying products that can be made from these intermediates  

  • Dr. Carl Frick, Department Head and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, will focus on carbon based nano, fiber and resin composite materials
  • Dr. John Hoberg, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Dr. Bruce Parkinson, SER Professor of Chemistry, will focus on nano-carbon nitrogen structures from benzene
  • Dr. Maohong Fan, SER Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will focus on syngas and carbon dioxide derived products
  • Dr. Patrick Johnson, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Dr. John Ackerman, Adjunct Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will focus on the production of amorphous diamanoids and derivative products

Initiative Components

Economic Proposition

  • To take advantage of the beneficial properties of Powder River Basin (PBR) coal to reestablish and increase demand, secure a future market for Wyoming coal and deliver economic prosperity to the State.

Coal Refinery Design

  • Take specific advantage of the inherent properties of Powder River Basin (PRB) coal and as needed co-processing with other Wyoming fossil, biomass or waste resources to maximize yields of valuable carbon based products.

Full Conversion of Coal

  • Primary finished products, manufactured by-products and co-products should seek to incorporate all the ready large volume molecular structures inherent in decomposed or transformed (PRB) coal. 

Feedstock Flexibility

  • Consider use of complimentary feedstock’s with the coal e.g. natural gas, ethane, LNG only to the extent that they generate full coal conversion.


  • Extract water from coal for reuse in subsequent conversion and transformation processing.
  • Minimum additional water consumption beyond that extracted from the coal.


  • Deliberate recovery of hydrogen from coal.
  • Maximize the consumption of available hydrogen (from coal) to make hydro-carbon products.

Product Slate

  • Intermediate products produced from the coal refinery should have a net worth (value) that exceeds the btu value of the coal itself. 

Maximize yields

  • Maximize yields of carbon based chemicals, materials, composites and intermediates.
  • Focus on existing demand or emergent demand products.

Zero carbon dioxide emissions/Waste Minimization

  • Goal of zero carbon dioxide emission and waste minimization.
  • Full utilization of every molecule derived from coal and any co-processed/fed complementary feedstock’s.
  • Zero effluent discharge and water consumption neutrality.

Optimal Energy Consumption

  • Focus on carbon rejection approaches that minimize the need for hydrogen and are largely exothermic rather than endothermic in nature.

The Coal Refinery Model

carbon engineering UW SER

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