CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Aiming to develop new export markets for a fuel source hit by declining domestic demand, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead on Monday signed an agreement calling for cooperation between the state and a consortium of Japanese companies in researching advanced coal technology.
Mead signed a memorandum of understanding in Cheyenne with the president of the Japan Coal Energy Center. It represents about 120 manufacturing and energy companies, including Mitsubishi Materials Corp. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.
Mead said he expects a conference will take place in Wyoming, the nation's largest coal-producing state, within a year that would allow Japanese researchers to work on coal issues with researchers from the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources.
He said his administration does not want the state to just "be a leader in the production of coal, we want to be a leader in the solutions for coal here in Wyoming."
Wyoming's state government depends heavily on revenues from production of coal and other fuels. But Mead has been forced to cut the state budget in recent months because of falling energy prices and lower demand for coal.
Wyoming also has been stymied in recent years in its push to send coal by train to ports in the Pacific Northwest for export to Asia. Opponents in Washington and Oregon are concerned about train traffic with dust, noise and possible environmental hazards plus the prospect of more global warming created abroad by coal-fired plants.
Mead said making progress in reducing emissions from coal plants could help Wyoming export coal to meet demand from Japan. He said the research will focus on cutting CO2 emissions through capturing it and using it to make other products.
"As we find solutions for Wyoming, the country and the world for coal — which is what we're to do here — it certainly makes the lift for getting ports open in places like the State of Washington easier when we can point to it and say, 'we're not just making this ask, we actually are doing the heavy lifting in terms of trying to find solutions for coal,'" Mead said.
Osamu Tsukamoto, president of the Japan Coal Energy Center, said the consortium already is undertaking coal research and demonstration projects and expects the agreement with Wyoming will lead to useful information exchanges.
Coal-fired plants in Japan now get the fuel from Australia and Indonesia but want to tap sources from other parts of the world, he said.
Mark Northam, director of the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, said Japan has increased its reliance on coal for electrical generation following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
"They're relying on a modern, new coal fleet to replace the nuclear power that they have shut down because of the unfortunate accident they had a few years ago," Northam said. "So our working with them is a way to develop that new advanced technology but also to ensure that it gets widely disseminated so that others can take advantage of it and use coal cleanly."