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Published August 17, 2022
Representatives of the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources (SER), Wood PLC and Atlas Carbon LLC will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 2, to launch the site of a coal refinery field demonstration project near Gillette.
SER Executive Director Holly Krutka, along with Richard Horner, SER’s senior adviser to UW’s Center for Carbon Capture and Conversion (CCCC), and CCCC Interim Director Trina Pfeiffer will be joined by Atlas Carbon CEO and Chairman Frank Levy; Polaris Chairman and CEO Reza Hashampour; and Raymond Ang, project manager at Wood.
Also attending will be Randall Luthi, the chief energy adviser to Gov. Mark Gordon; UW President Ed Seidel; and key stakeholders from the Wyoming Energy Authority, the Wyoming Mining Association, members of the Wyoming Legislature and the UW faculty and student research team that worked with SER to develop the technology.
“Wyoming’s coal workers and reserves are second to none,” Luthi says. “Even as we work to protect the existing markets, it is encouraging to see the SER-led team innovate a process that could unlock new markets for Wyoming coal and support the diversification of the economy.”
Wood, a British-based leading consulting and engineering company, has completed a phase 1 engineering study for site works, as well as a corresponding feasibility study that could integrate UW’s coal refinery technology to showcase a first-of-a-kind field demonstration.
“Our partnership with the University of Wyoming and Atlas Carbon is a result of our long-standing relationship with Polaris Asset Corp.,” says Steve Conway, senior vice president for process and chemicals at Wood. “We are proud to continue and grow our presence in Wyoming supporting the university on the next phase of turning coal into valuable nonenergy products. This collaboration aligns well with our pursuit of future-ready, innovative technology and complements our ongoing research with the university to develop additional industry solutions.”
Situating the novel coal-processing technology adjacent to the existing activated carbon production facility operated by Atlas Carbon in Gillette will leverage existing Wood expertise and coal-handling preparation capabilities at the site.
“Wood will now begin the site preparations at the Fort Union Industrial Park in Gillette, owned by Atlas Carbon LLC, to make it demonstration ready,” Levy says. “The manufacturing plant is located near the Wyoming Innovation Center and has the ability and capacity to convert carbon into products, making it an ideal location for a field demonstration.”
According to Levy, the new pilot facility will be in “the heart of the Powder River Basin (PRB)” and will enable Atlas’ continued improvement of activated carbons produced from the high-quality coal as a feedstock.
“I am pleased that our collaboration with the University of Wyoming is continuing to grow,” he adds. “Atlas is proud of our innovation products that are used for air and water purification and look forward to cresting many more potential uses for PRB coal in the future working with the University of Wyoming.”
The site will be developed and operated collaboratively by the three stakeholders and will ideally showcase and develop -- at pre-commercial scale -- a sustainable coal refinery process, as well as product technologies using Wyoming PRB coal.
The thermochemical process technology developed in SER’s CCCC efficiently decomposes Wyoming coal, yielding beneficial liquids and solids that are then used to create valuable, non-energy products, such as building and construction materials, asphalt products and agricultural soil amendments.
The core process technology integrates thermal coal solvent extraction and flash/thermal-pyrolysis processing and is a critical part of the carbon engineering program. CCCC researchers have worked with much success since 2016 refining the novel process and developing the coal-derived carbon products. Wyoming has invested more than $30 million to date on such projects.
“In the next phase of this site demonstration, the pyrolysis portion of the technology will be installed to create larger volumes of coal char that can then be used to manufacture useful products such as our building materials and soil amendments,” Pfeiffer says. “If future funding is secured, we will be able to add the solvent extraction portion of the process in order to fully integrate the technology.”
Once fully operational as a demonstration site, the facility will showcase the possibilities of PRB coal to potential industry and commercial stakeholders. The evolution of a new carbon economy is taking shape through the three-way collaboration and with the support of the state.
“The main focus of this project is to create new markets for Wyoming coal,” Horner says. “Diversifying the use of coal will create new jobs and new opportunities for coal communities, as well as create new manufacturing and conversion industries that can drive economic growth. We are thrilled that Atlas Carbon and Wood have agreed to be stakeholders in this venture.”
It is anticipated that building up a new carbon economy -- in partnership with the efforts of the CCCC, Atlas Carbon, the Wyoming Innovation Center and other organizations in Campbell County -- will bring added prosperity to the state while also addressing the challenge of carbon management.
“I am grateful for the support of the governor’s office, the Wyoming Legislature, Atlas Carbon, Wood and the many other stakeholders who have supported, promoted and engaged in our carbon engineering initiative,” Krutka says. “As a Wyoming energy-focused research entity, our ultimate goal is to invent and demonstrate technologies that can be transferred to industry partners that make those technologies a commercial reality. The prospect of field activities that will advance the UW coal refinery to the demonstration phase is an exciting step as we aim to be the launchpad to create many new markets for Wyoming coal.”
For more information about UW’s CCCC, visit the website at www.uwyo.edu/ser/research/centers-of-excellence/carbon-capture-conversion/index.html, or for more information about the groundbreaking event, email Christine Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org.