University of Utah receives federal grant to research converting coal to carbon fiber

SALT LAKE CITY – University of Utah researchers are embarking on a new venture that could provide some relief to communities hurt by a decline in the coal economy. With backing from the federal government, they’re looking at ways to convert coal to carbon fiber.

Dozens of jobs were lost when Deer Creek Coal Mine in Emery County closed its doors in 2014.

With the coal industry in decline and the Obama Administration’s efforts to move toward cleaner energy, federal leaders made a stop in Utah Wednesday to offer some help.

They awarded a $790,000 grant to University of Utah engineers. For the next three years, researchers will test whether technology to convert coal into carbon fiber materials can be used in different industries.

“We'll be looking at the Utah coals, and then we'll be looking at different approaches at breaking down the coal,” said Eric Eddings, University of Utah Chemical Engineer professor.

On display were local products made from carbon fiber, from outdoor recreational equipment such as skis and bicycle rims to things like prosthetics.

The implications of finding alternate uses for coal could pave the way for economic opportunities and bring jobs back to struggling communities.

“Utah has been a leader in this industry, and today again we write another significant chapter,” said Ben Hart of the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development.

“Through federal collaboration, through leveraging the resources that we have collectively at the federal government, we can absolutely help move the needle,” said Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development.