SHERIDAN — Ramaco CEO and Chairman Randall Atkins is scheduled to testify before Congress on the company’s work in Sheridan as part of a hearing on future uses of coal.
Atkins is scheduled to testify before House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources as part of a hearing titled “Assessing Innovative and Alternative Uses of Coal.”
Atkins said Ramaco’s aim is to use the carbon from coal to create various products. Those efforts are focused in four areas: coal to carbon fiber, which is a lightweight material that can be used in cars and a number of other products; coal to resins, which will be used in 3-D manufacturing; coal to building products, which would attempt to use carbon nanotubes to reinforce asphalts and cements; and coal to medical technology, which will use carbon to create medical sensors used to diagnose diseases like the Zika Virus and Lyme Disease.
“All of these uses have pretty high margins associated with them,” Atkins said. “Some will have high volumes of coal that will be required.”
He added that the goal in creating these products is not to meet a current market demand, but to disrupt established markets by innovating new products.
“Basically, the thread that runs throughout all of this is a lot of these products are made today with existing carbon precursors, from petroleum,” Atkins said. “The carbon in a ton of petroleum and a ton of coal is roughly the same — about 70 to 75 percent. The difference is that a ton of coal probably goes for about $12 and a ton of petroleum goes for about $500.
“We’re really trying to take some things that already exist in some parts of the world and refine them and hopefully improve them,” he added.
Ramaco plans to open its 3-D manufacturing facility in Sheridan, which is located on Val Vista Street, in about three weeks, pending HVAC certification. Ramaco Director of Operations Cinder Destefano said the facility will house three 3-D printers, which will initially be used to make products that can be used locally, such as components for breakaway roping and horse tack.
Cliff Gilman, an intern from Duke University who is helping Ramaco set up its 3-D printing lab this summer, said the facility will begin by printing products using traditional resins.
“The whole idea here is we’re taking 3-D printing, which used to be a prototyping technology, and making it into end products,” Gilman said.
Eventually, Ramaco hopes to use resins made from coal in its 3-D printing.
The bulk of Ramaco’s work in Sheridan County will take place at manufacturing and research facilities on property located north of town. While construction has not begun on those facilities yet, Atkins said he hopes that the first facility will be ready for occupancy by the late first quarter, or early second quarter, of next year.