The electricity market is souring on coal. Can innovation save Wyoming’s mines?

At the edge of a field in Laramie stands a little house with big prospects.

The house doesn’t look like much. It’s the size of a shed, clad in slate gray brick, outfitted with a generic front door and a pair of narrow windows. A few feet of gravel separate it from its twin, identical except for a single, fundamental difference.

One of the houses is made of coal.

An experimental house built with coal bricks stands beside a clay-brick version behind a University of Wyoming lab. UW researchers are studying novel ways to use coal in the hopes of boosting the state’s struggling coal industry.

Christine Reed, courtesy

The researchers behind its atypical brickwork hope their 10-by-14-foot experiment will give rise to a new frontier for construction — and a new dawn for coal.

“You can actually build a whole house, or a whole building, with just coal-based products,” said Trina Pfeiffer, director of the center for carbon capture and conversion at the University of Wyoming. In addition to coal-char bricks, she said, her team has come up with ways to convert

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