Nearing Completion: Carbon Valley’s Wyoming Innovation Center

Carbon Valley’s Wyoming Innovation Center (WyIC) is scheduled to open its doors in the beginning of summer – ushering a new era of advanced carbon product evolution for Campbell County and Gillette, Wyoming. The center initially broke ground in June 2021 and is now expected to welcome tenants in the coming months.

The state-of-the-art, 10-acre facility will feature two buildings and seven demonstration sites for pilot plants. Private companies and researchers will be able to scale up coal-to-product and rare earth element research from the lab to pre-commercialization level. This will help determine the commercial potential and profitability of utilizing coal as a raw material for carbon neutral advanced carbon products. The region has been the leading coal producer in the U.S. since the 1980s and is in proximity to active mines with high quality reserves and easy to access feedstock provision. Currently holding roughly 165 billion tons of easy to recover coal, the Carbon Valley is a desirable location for future advanced carbon workers and researchers to explore ways to make new and proven products made from coal, while also engaging with a community that has an established nexus of large-scale RD&D. Tenants will benefit from co-location with Department of Energy (DOE) and University funded RD&D projects.

“A main goal of the Innovation Center is to promote and advance the diversification of Wyoming’s economy utilizing our wealth of raw materials,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “Backed by state and federal resources, we’re confident that the facility will facilitate the industry’s sizable economic growth and Wyoming’s undeniable leadership in coal processes and production.”

Tenants at WyIC will focus on evaluating the commercial viability of high-value nonfuel, low- or zero-emissions products made from coal and extracting pivotal rare earth elements found in the fly ash of coal burned at local power plants. The region’s Powder River Basin coal contains high extractable rare earth element content in portions of the coal seams and particularly in the coal ash materials produced at power plants – used in nuclear reactors, cell phones, magnets, camera lenses, wind turbines, electric cars and more. (The U.S. currently depends on China for as much as 97% of its rare earth element sources.) WyIC’s first tenant, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), will focus on applied research for the production and use of clean energy resources.

The WyIC’s 4,000-square-foot building will provide office, lab and workspace for tenants – while a 1,500-square-foot structure will be used to handle raw materials. The main draw, however, is the seven demonstration sites ranging from half-acre to one acre that function as an open-access platform for tenants to upscale their lab-proven processes. Researchers can increase their testing capacity from utilizing a few pounds of coal each day to processing up to several hundred pounds of coal or coal byproducts daily.

The new center is part of a broader effort to spur innovation in the Carbon Valley, utilizing its natural resources and mines to grow and sustain jobs and advance beneficial environmental studies. The Wyoming Innovation Center is among several projects that are exploring new options to address the entire life cycle of carbon – including the Wyoming Integrated Test Center (ITC) and the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources (UW-SER).

To learn more about the Wyoming Innovation Center, Integrated Test Center and CarbonSAFE program, click here.