Gov. Matthew Mead is taking an active role in developing an integrated test center to be constructed at a coal-fired power plant in Wyoming to research commercial uses for carbon.

As the top coal-producing state in the U.S.—producing more than three times the amount of coal as second-place West Virginia in the first half of 2014—Wyoming has a huge interest in maintaining coal’s viability as a power generation fuel.

In June, the Wyoming Legislature approved the Republican governor’s request for $15 million to build the test center. The design includes a five-bay system employing a stack slipstream to supply flue gases to researchers developing solutions for CO2 utilization.

“Power companies and coal producers are excited about this proposal. Wyoming has an abundance of coal, and we know we must find productive ways to put coal and its byproducts to use. We are showing leadership in supporting this kind of advanced research,” Mead stated in a press release following the legislative approval.

On July 14, the governor told POWER that two companies—Basin Electric Power Cooperative and Black Hills Power—have expressed initial interest in having the integrated test center built at one of their facilities.

“This is a big deal because we couldn’t just go build a power plant and then put the integrated test center on there,” Mead said during a press conference. “Both of the companies are willing to continue working with us to see whether or not that will become a reality.”

But the state’s involvement doesn’t end there. Mead is also trying to promote an “innovation prize.” Working with the Culver City, Calif.–based XPRIZE, his goal is to award a $10 million prize to the group, or individual, submitting the best solution for utilizing the slipstream gases. Mead said the prize would not simply be awarded for a conceptual idea, but for proof of something commercially profitable.

“This could be a game-changer for coal in that not only would we be able to continue robust coal development, but we could also find another source or another use of the slipstream. It could provide a mutual product or products,” Mead said.

Mead mentioned that he had already met with a company that needs additional carbon to produce graphene—a material made from a single layer of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a repeating pattern of hexagons—which could transform the electronics and computer industries. He said a food company also is interested in mixing the slipstream with algae to create an artificial sweetener. Mead noted that the petrochemical industry might be interested in utilizing the carbon.

POWER asked Mead if the money approved by the legislature was expected to fully fund construction of the test center. He answered, “As of today, we’re fairly comfortable that $15 million will be adequate, even if some of it is used for design and planning.”

When asked about a timeline for project construction, Mead suggested that it was still too early to provide a detailed schedule. He said that the innovation award and the integrated test center must proceed simultaneously.

“They sort of have to go hand in hand,” Mead said. “We don’t want to just build this if there’s not the opportunity for the innovation award.” He explained that the XPRIZE partners don’t want to commit until they know that the integrated test center will be built, which presents a bit of a dilemma, but the governor expressed that things are moving in “a very positive direction.”

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)