The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado won a $200,000 matching federal grant Friday to help it develop new ways to market its coal.
Because of a declining use of coal as a power source, the association has teamed up with the Grow Economy and Rural Policy and Public Lands Institute in Utah to develop a plan to find ways to create coal-derived products as a way to diversify the coal industry and create sustainable jobs in six counties in northwest Colorado and eastern Utah.
The grant, from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, is to serve Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties in Colorado, and Carbon, Emery and San Juan counties in Utah.
"Thousands of products are made with coal or coal by-products," said Ray Beck, AGNC chairman. "This EDA grant will consider the feasibility of utilizing coal as a source for new products as well as help to identify other innovative opportunities for creating jobs at the local and regional level."
According to the World Coal Association, coal is used for more than just generating power. Alumina refineries, paper manufacturers and chemical and pharmaceutical industries use coal to make some products.
Byproducts of coal are also in such things as soaps, aspirin, solvents, dyes, plastics and fibers, such as rayon and nylon, the association says. Additionally, refined coal tar is used in the manufacture of chemicals, such as creosote oil and benzene, while ammonia gas from coal is used for ammonia salts, nitric acid and agricultural fertilizer.
Several coal mines and coal-fired power plants have been closed in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming at an increasing pace in recent years, with more set to happen in the next few years, including the Craig Station Unit 1 coal-fired generating facility in Moffat County, which is set to be retired by 2025.
Last week, the Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association closed its Nucla power plant two years earlier than planned. Tri-State had already closed a nearby coal mine that was supplying that power plant. Meanwhile, Xcel Energy plans to close its Pueblo coal plants by 2026.
The North Fork Valley in Delta County several years ago closed the Elk Creek and Bowie No. 2 coal mines.
"We don't have any preconceived ideas of exactly what will come out of this," said Bonnie Peterson, AGNC executive director. "One of the promising things is carbon fiber that can be developed out of coal. It's a very light and strong material that is used in all sorts of products, from outdoor recreation to medical equipment to aerospace."
Peterson said the plan is to research all possible uses of coal, and identify markets where it would be shipped, including looking for processing or manufacturing companies that might even locate in the region.