TechConnect Program Helps Drive New Technologies, Uses for WV Coal
West Virginia is recognized as one of the world’s greatest producers of coal for power generation and steel making. And while the need for coal for electricity production is waning with the transition to more sustainable forms of energy, research and technology are leading to new uses for West Virginia-produced coal, maintaining the need for this valuable product and the jobs and economic impact that come with them.
TechConnect West Virginia’s TechWrxWV Program was designed to help entrepreneurs reach their next level of growth and contribute to the region’s overall economic resilience. While the program was officially completed in 2021, it continues to play an important role in shepherding the next generation of carbon-based technologies through their sub-awardees important work.
The Center for Applied Research & Technology and the Chemical Alliance Zone have long histories of providing game-changing strategic technical assistance to West Virginia’s entrepreneurial community. Through their involvement with CFOAM® and X-MAT® CCC, they are helping these companies identify new uses and new markets for West Virginia coal.
Touchstone Research Laboratories, based in Triadelphia, West Virginia, developed the CFOAM® products technology in the early 1990’s as part of an SBIR project for fire walls on US Navy Destroyers. CFOAM® carbon foam has evolved into a highly desirable alternative to conventional materials in markets such as thermal insulation, fire proofing, and composite tooling, due to its excellent mechanical and thermal properties.
In the manufacturing process, coal is heat-treated under a nitrogen atmosphere and high pressure to make lightweight carbon foam. The process is much more environmentally friendly than coal combustion for power generation, as the final product sequesters a majority of the carbon.
Dr. Rudolph Olson III, Director of CONSOL Innovations, the company that now owns CFOAM®, said, “Having a relationship with TechConnect has been beneficial to us. They have supported us at tradeshows and technical conferences via collaboration with associates from the Chemical Alliance Zone (CAZ) and Center for Applied Research and Technology (CART), helping us to connect with potential customers and partners in technology.”
CFOAM® continues to develop coal-based carbon foams and other carbon products for the military, industrial, aerospace, and commercial markets.
X-MAT®CCC, the Advanced Materials Division of Semplastics, is a Bluefield, West Virginia company focused on developing X-MAT® coal-derived building materials. The company developed a proprietary chemical and coal powder to create X-TILESTM Coal Core Composite Roof Shingles. The shingles are eco-friendly, stronger, and lighter than current ceramic tiles, fireproof, and less expensive as they use significantly less energy to produce than current ceramic tiles.
X-MAT® has had several partnerships including work with NASA, Space Florida and NETL. X-MAT®’s game-changing material has various current applications including fireproof roof tiles, lightweight space mirrors, battery electrodes and 3D printed ceramics. X-MAT® technology can be custom-engineered to fit many specifications and has unlimited potential market applications.
The Center for Applied Research & Technology’s assistance included design and utility patenting support, engineering economics analysis, digital manufacturing source code development, investor readiness support, late-phase prototype enhancement, initial product production, and marketing support. The Chemical Alliance Zone helped facilitate discussions about potential sources of matching funds and SBIR opportunities, as well as a potential source for feedstock materials.
Bill Easter, CEO of X-MAT, said, “Through our partnerships with the Center for Applied Research and Technology, Inc. (CART) and Semplastics, along with the support of the Department of Energy, we are developing and manufacturing innovative Coal-Derived Building Materials including Roof Tiles, Facades and Panels, Brick Facades and X-MATRIX hollow masonry units. We are giving coal a second chance. With X-MAT technology, coal can be the future of sustainable living.”
TechConnect West Virginia’s TechWrxWV Program has created measurable and meaningful results for West Virginia’s entrepreneurs and early-stage companies, and for the state. To date, the program has helped to launch 83 new companies, create 230 new jobs while retaining another 283, and assisted West Virginia entrepreneurs and early-stage companies attract $17.5 million in follow-on investments.