The entire U.S. coal industry has been under significant pressure from a variety of forces that include increased regulation, the shale gas boom, and coal-plant retirements. There are growing concerns that our nation will not be able to benefit from the many products coal provides from steel to energy. Instead of sitting back and waiting for solutions, the Governor’s Office of Energy Development’s (OED) Alair Emory and Carbon County Economic Development Director Tami Ursenbach with the support from Dr. Laura Nelson, Governor Herbert’s Energy Advisor and Commissioner Jae Potter, formed the Advanced Coal Resource Group (ACRG). This group looks at regulatory challenges, advanced coal technologies, and future uses for the coal. The counties participating in the ACRG are Carbon, Emery, Sevier, Millard and Kane.
The ACRG consists of county, state government, energy industry, and university representatives. One of the agenda items discussed at ACRG meetings is coal pitch to carbon fiber. Recently, the University of Utah was awarded a $750,000 dollar research grant from the federal Economic Development Association (EDA) on how we can use our local coal to make carbon fiber. Andrew Buffmire, has spearheaded this project in coordination with a board of research professors at the University of Utah with partnering universities, and a U.S. national lab. Carbon fiber is a material used in a large variety of products and is expanding in use as various industries work to reduce weight and improve or maintain strength. The current coal to carbon fiber development process is expensive, making the use of coal carbon fiber cost prohibitive in many applications. If the process using coal can be improved to heavily reduce cost coal carbon fiber may have widespread application including potential high demand from the auto industry. Utah’s coal appears to be well suited for new coal to carbon fiber research due to its low sulfur levels. Former Utah Representative Brad King, local Commissioners and Ursenbach were some of the people that proactively encouraged and supported Buffmire to apply for the EDA grant. They understand the potential benefits coal to carbon fiber research could have on Carbon County if the research yields positive results.
Although the group has only met a handful of times, there has been great interest to work together for the future of coal. One topic of interest is educating the public on the benefits of coal, the potential for clean coal technologies, and uses for coal in addition to energy production.
Many feel hopeful about the future of coal with President Donald Trump in office and the ACRG will work toward progressing Utah’s leadership in coal research and the many future possibilities of this natural resource. Commissioner Potter and Ursenbach represent Carbon County well and will make sure there is representation in any plans that can benefit the county. They are also strong supporters of all 25 rural counties in Utah.
For more information about the Advanced Coal Resource Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.