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Published September 18, 2023
The School of Energy Resources enhances energy-related education, research and outreach.
By Micaela Myers
Virtual Surface Mine Training
SER’s 3D Visualization Center houses the only four-walled 3D Cave Automatic Virtual Environment in Wyoming and develops applications for a wide range of devices. The center is used for education, outreach and research. Recently, Program Manager and Lead Developer Kyle Summerfield and his team created a virtual reality surface mining training program using ground-based LiDAR scans of Black Thunder coal mine in partnership with Gillette College, funded by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
“Depending on the scene, users are tasked with identifying and photographing violations, operating radios in accordance with standard operating procedure, ensuring that proper personal protective equipment is in place, and observing machinery and associated regulations in situ and to scale,” Summerfield says. “Gillette College is using this application to supplement their new miner training program.”
As of spring 2023, over 4,000 students have already used the application, and reception has been extremely positive.
“Efforts are ongoing across the state to incorporate mixed reality technology into education,” says Summerfield, who serves as the co-lead for the virtual reality subcomponent of the Wyoming Innovation Partnership. “As Wyoming explores its approach to diversifying energy generation, these programs will be vital in training for nuclear, wind, solar, carbon capture utilization and storage, and hydrogen.”
Rare Earth and Critical Minerals
In 2021, SER was awarded nearly $3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for research focused on expanding and transforming the use of coal and coal-based resources and products using carbon ore, rare earth elements and critical minerals. Led by SER Project Manager Erin Phillips and Research Scientist Davin Bagdonas, projects aimed at establishing a strategic plan that addresses the development of these resources and promotes economic growth and workforce development are taking place in the Powder River, Green River and Wind River basins.
The teams are working with Wyoming Workforce Services to help connect employers with resources, grant funds and professional development opportunities to increase employment skills. Community colleges in both regions are also partners on the grants, with the intention of transforming existing programs and courses to meet the needs of a critical mineral industry across the supply chain, from extraction to processing and manufacturing.
Director of Outreach Christine Reed says: “By creating a new use for coal in Wyoming basins and a new industry related to them, workforce training will become a critical piece of retraining the existing workforce in those communities, as well as training any influx of workers to meet the needs of any newly created opportunities.”
Austin Moon, Absaroka Energy and Environmental Solutions
SER offers an energy resource management and development major with concentrations in either professional land management or energy and environmental systems, which produces skilled graduates who are highly recruited. Austin Moon of Cheyenne graduated in December 2022 with a focus on energy and environmental systems, a minor in reclamation and restoration ecology and an undergraduate certificate in geographic information systems. He now lives in Sheridan and works as an environmental consultant for Absaroka Energy and Environmental Solutions LLC.
“The School of Energy Resources did phenomenal job preparing me for my career,” says Moon, who always planned to stay in state after graduation. “My favorite part about Wyoming is the natural beauty and the access to outdoor activities. I love my job because I’m out in the field doing really important work that ensures the beauty of Wyoming isn’t compromised.”
Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) involves capturing CO2 at power plants and other facilities. That CO2 is then used to enhance oil production in aging fields or is stored permanently in geologic layers thousands of feet underground, thus reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.
“Wyoming is a recognized leader in CCUS, with over two decades of established research as well as the supporting policy and infrastructure,” says School of Energy Resources (SER) Executive Director Holly Krutka. “SER and our partners throughout Wyoming have been and remain at the forefront of this new and exciting technology and, as such, it is only natural to leverage UW’s expertise to offer a multidisciplinary certificate on the subject.”
UW is the second school in the U.S. to offer a CCUS certificate, which covers technology, economics and policy. Students and professionals can earn the certificate online or on campus.
“Couple this well-rounded certificate with the projected job growth in CCUS, and it becomes a big need for the U.S. workforce,” says Academic Director Kami Danaei. “Wyoming is particularly primed for CCUS projects and growth.”