Western Research Institute Helps Develop Energy-Related Technologies
The multimillion-dollar nonprofit Western Research Institute (WRI) in Laramie conducts pioneering work in advanced energy systems and environmental technologies such as highway materials research.
Fueled by its burgeoning energy and renewables industry and powered by emerging technologies in a range of industries, Wyoming is a state of innovation, where collaboration among business, academic and government entities is bringing new technologies and processes from the lab to the marketplace.
Developing Technology and Tech Center
The 78 employees of the Wyoming Research Institute – scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff – take on commissioned testing projects and demonstrations for client companies and government agencies. They also develop their own technologies that attract interested partners, particularly in the field of energy and the environmental aspects of energy.
“Our work enhances existing industries, contributes to the creation of new companies and aids business recruitment by economic development organizations across Wyoming,” says CEO Don Collins.
Incorporated as the University of Wyoming Research Corporation in 1983 and doing business as Western Research Institute since then, WRI’s history dates to 1924 as a government laboratory, when the Bureau of Mines set up a petroleum research facility in Laramie.
WRI’s headquarters is on the campus of the University of Wyoming, yet the institute is independent of the university. Administrative offices and the Transportation Technology laboratories are at the campus location. One mile north of Laramie, in Albany County, is the 22-acre Advanced Technology Center, where pilot-scale demonstrations are performed.
WRI includes one of the foremost highway materials research groups in the world, exploring the chemistry and interactions between asphalt and other highway materials. For example, warm mix asphalt (known as WMA) is a recent advancement over the traditional hot mix asphalt (HMA) that has been used on U.S. roads since the 1870s.
WMA is produced at a lower temperature, with reduced fumes, making it safer for the environment and for production workers. Because it cools quicker, motorists are able to travel sooner after it is laid on a road. Researchers at WRI are studying recycled asphalt pavements (a process of melting down previously used asphalt) and roofing shingles to pave highways.
WRI licenses many of its technologies and processes to companies wanting to meet specific challenges or enhance their product lines and offerings. Commercial business has increased 47 percent over the last year for the institute. The areas of energy, environment and transportation materials have all seen growth. Current WRI research projects involve hydrogen processes and other biofuels, coal gasification and coal upgrading.
"Wyoming is blessed with an abundance of energy resources,” says Dr. Vijay Sethi, vice president of WRI’s energy production and generation. “By advancing energy technologies and processes, we're helping maximize their value and raise the standard of living in the state."
Emery Energy Co. of Salt Lake City commissioned its 10-ton-per-day FlexFeed coal gasification test facility at WRI in 2012, operating the gasifier with Wyoming coal and biomass feedstocks to assess the feasibility of constructing a commercial-scale facility to produce power, fuels and chemicals.
The gasifier facility at WRI was funded by Emery Energy Co., the Wyoming Clean Coal Technologies Research Program and the U.S. Department of Energy.
“Laramie is located at 7,200 feet above sea level, making our site a perfect place to test and evaluate gasification processes at high altitude,” says Sethi.