Carbon tech could create the next generation of Wyoming coal jobs

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – With targeted investments and forward-looking policies, Wyoming could capitalize on its natural resources and strengths in the carbon tech industry to drive economic growth and support 2,600 jobs annually. That’s according to The Wyoming Jobs Project: A Guide to Creating Jobs in Carbon Tech, a new report created by the American Jobs Project in partnership with the University of Wyoming College of Business.

Carbon tech refers to high-value products and chemical feedstocks made from coal, natural gas, oil, or captured carbon dioxide. Wyoming — which is home to one-third of existing U.S. coal reserves, substantial natural gas deposits, and abundant technical and scientific expertise — is poised to lead this emerging industry.

“Carbon tech has countless potential commercial applications, and the U.S. market for carbon tech products already totals nearly $3 billion,” said Dr. Robert Godby, associate professor at the University of Wyoming College of Business. “Wyoming is in a strong position to capitalize on this opportunity, and this report offers a practical roadmap for creating jobs and growing the economy.”

Coal mining is vital to Wyoming’s economy, but demand for coal for electricity generation fell by 25 percent over the last three years, and coal’s share of the U.S. power mix is projected to decline by half through 2040. Wyoming urgently needs to diversify its economy and create a fertile climate for homegrown entrepreneurship to respond to the changing energy landscape.

“Taking practical steps to grow Wyoming’s carbon tech industry can put a lot of people to work and support coal-dependent communities while kick-starting new areas of growth,” said Kate Ringness, co-Director of the American Jobs Project and an author of the report.

Based on extensive research and stakeholder outreach, The Wyoming Jobs Project finds that:

  • The global carbon tech industry is projected to grow substantially over the next decade. Carbon tech products include carbon fiber, concrete, graphene, cement, plastics, and carbon foam. Some of these products can be used to produce downstream consumer goods such as car parts, building insulation, plastic containers, batteries, and sporting equipment.
  • Wyoming is well positioned to tap into this market growth given its abundant supply of coal and other natural resources, commitment to economic diversification, and high quality of life. These assets are fortified by visionary investments in cutting-edge R&D institutions, such as the Carbon Advanced Materials Center, the Integrated Test Center, and the Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute; private R&D facilities, such as the iPark and iCAM; and anchor companies, such as Ramaco Carbon and Mistubishi Chemical Carbon Fiber and Composites.
  • Two of the largest local potential downstream users of Wyoming carbon tech products are Wyoming wind and transmission line developers, providing a future opportunity to supply these in-state businesses. Concrete, which can be used to sequester emitted carbon dioxide, is another significant potential downstream use of carbon tech in Wyoming.
  • Wyoming’s carbon tech industry could support an average of 2,600 jobs each year through 2035, representing over 25 percent of the state’s current manufacturing workforce. This figure includes direct jobs from manufacturing and software development, indirect jobs from suppliers, and induced jobs from spending in the local economy.

The report provides state-specific strategies that take advantage of this economic opportunity and build up critical assets for industry growth, including the innovation ecosystem, access to capital, workforce development programs, business recruitment efforts, and local market deployment. Recommendations include:

  • Building a comprehensive carbon tech cluster partnership to coordinate industrial strategy;
  • Developing and strengthening R&D partnerships with other countries and recruiting oversees firms to expand in Wyoming;
  • Reducing brain drain and retaining Wyoming’s brightest students by converting a portion of the Hathaway Scholarship to a forgivable loan program tied to in-state employment after graduation;
  • Establishing a fund of funds to increase access to capital for in-state businesses while encouraging patient capital investments; and
  • Developing a statewide network of entrepreneurship mentors built on successful models in other states.

“Our research into Wyoming’s economic landscape reveals an active and growing ecosystem for carbon innovation and policy commitments to diversification that together could form the foundation of a robust carbon tech cluster,” said Ringness. “The Wyoming Jobs Project: A Guide to Creating Jobs in Carbon Tech suggests a number of practical, targeted, and tested approaches to help the state capitalize on these advantages and become a national and global leader in carbon tech.”

Visit the American Jobs Project website to read the report.