UW receives DOE funding for coal-based products, initiatives

A student works in a lab at the University of Wyoming to retrieve rare earth elements. (Photo: University of Wyoming, used with permission)
A student works in a lab at the University of Wyoming to retrieve rare earth elements. (Photo: University of Wyoming)

The University of Wyoming (UW) will receive nearly $3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for research focused on expanding and transforming the use of coal and coal-based resources to produce coal-based products, using carbon ore, rare earth elements (REE), and critical minerals (CM), according to an April 30 UW press release.

Two separate projects submitted by UW’s School of Energy Resources (SER) Center for Economic Geology Research (CEGR) were selected by the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and announced earlier this week, the release stated. The funds will cover research in the Powder River Basin (PRB) of Wyoming and Montana as well as in the Greater Green River and Wind River basins (GGRB-WRB) of both Wyoming and Colorado.

The selected projects are among 13 nationwide announced earlier this week totaling $19 million.

“SER is thrilled to have received these grants from the Department of Energy,” said Holly Krutka, SER executive director. “We are honored to collaborate with stakeholders around the state and region to lead a research program focused on building the tools needed to support a rare earths and critical minerals industry.”

The production of REE and CM is vital for use in electronics, magnets, batteries, phosphors for lighting, as well as applications in national security and clean energy production, including the manufacturing of wind turbines, per the release.

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Presently, China dominates the REEs global market.

However, the state of Wyoming, and particularly the PRB and GGRB-WRB, are well positioned to support carbon ore, REE, and CM research in the U.S., according to UW officials. Additionally, UW already has existing programs and facilities in place that are dedicated to the development of coal products and byproducts to support these grants.

These projects will work to advance Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s directive to strive toward net-negative carbon emissions.

“I couldn’t be more excited for these projects,” said CEGR Director Scott Quillinan, who’s been working on providing carbon management solutions for Wyoming’s fossil fuel industry since 2011.

“These projects will lay the framework for new industries in each of these basins,” Quillinan said.