Ramaco Carbon from Sheridan, Wyoming announced it received a $2 million grant from the Department of Energy to research alternative uses for coal.
The company originally started out ten years ago, but had its troubles finding success in energy. The CEO of Ramaco Carbon, Randy Atkins, says they decided to start trying to find other uses for coal about six or seven years ago.
“There has been some tremendous advances in both advanced carbon material as well as advanced carbon products,” Atkins said.
Despite the announcements of units eventually shutting down in south Lincoln County, coal mining is expected to continue. Now it will need to find ways for other uses other than just energy.
Atkins says his company is looking at four major areas for alternative uses for coal. One is using the material as a precursor to making carbon fibers. Another is using coal to create building products. One is using it to develop resins or other types of chemicals. Last is finding ways to use coal in life-science and medical uses.
Atkins says Ramaco Carbon is focused on resins related to 3D printing.
“Which we think will be the coming form of manufacturing here in the 21st Century,” Atkins said. “Probably replace injection molding.”
He says people worried about the future of coal should not hang their heads just yet. He worked as a chairman on a recent report to the Secretary of Energy on alternative uses for coal around the world.
“You take a place like China,” Atkins said. “This year alone they will use somewhere between 300-400 million tons of coal for alternative uses.”
He says this is for fertilizers, chemicals, and other fuels. He says the U.S. produced about 750 million tons of coal last year.
“So as we move forward,” Atkins said. “We’re really trying to catch up to places like China and other parts of the world which are indeed using coal for non-utility purposes.”
However, he says that doesn’t mean the state of Wyoming won’t have its battles to face. He says environmental interests funded by large, out-of-state environmental groups have tried to prevent Wyoming job creation.
He also says regulations in Washington D.C. has affected places like Washington State who are being prevented from interstate commerce.
Overall though he feels coal will have a place in the world for a very long time. Because there are so many developing countries around the world like parts of Africa.
“They will always use the cheapest space load feedstock for their power,” Atkins said. “And that will probably be coal.”
He says gas is not prevalent in other parts of the world as it is in the United States. He also believes coal will have alternative uses in the United States which may also create a floor that it can be sold for a higher amount.