As Utah looks to find new ways to sustain its economic prosperity, as well as address economic challenges in its rural counties, Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) supported companies aim to find new opportunities in the energy and clean technologies sector, particularly in rural Utah.

The growth of Utah’s energy and cleantech sector potentially creates huge opportunities for economic growth throughout the state. With Utah’s population expected to double by 2050, these new technologies provide a possible way to meet the state’s environmental and economic goals with responsible energy development.

While Utah boasts one of the strongest economies in the nation, economic success is not shared equally among Utah’s 29 counties. Parts of rural Utah are still struggling with net population loss and slow economic growth. Traditionally, Utah’s energy sector, along with other industrial sectors such as mining, has been a cornerstone of its rural economy, and new technologies supported by USTAR hold promise to accelerate growth throughout the state.

For example, Dragon Shale, a USTAR-supported company located in Vernal, is developing a new processing technology for oil shale with lower costs that enables new business strategies. The company’s technology produces high value petrochemicals with a low carbon footprint, low water use, and low emissions.

“Oil shale extraction has typically been an expensive and wasteful process,” said co-founder O.J. Schneider. “Dragon Shale’s founders, with backgrounds in environmental responsibility and compliance testing aimed to change this.”

Dragon Shales hopes their technology will create new potential for local economies located across Utah.

“[Our] technology enables small scale low capital cost and low risk projects,” said Schneider. “These projects enable the resource owner rather than a third party to be able to license, build and own the production capability to process their own resource keeping the greatest value in the local economy.” 

Emissions Based Maintenance (EBM) is another USTAR backed company aiming to reduce carbon footprints and increase energy efficiency. Focused on industries that use high horsepower diesel engines—such as large mining, railroad locomotives, stationary power generation, and marine applications—the company’s technology reduces emissions and decreases fuel consumption.

Projects to date demonstrate that an engine that typically consumes 60 gallons per hour will lead to a five to seven percent average improvement in engine efficiency. Utilizing EBM’s technology to increase an engine’s efficiency by just five percent helps a company save nearly $60,000 in fuel and a reduces C02 output by 218 tons annually.

The majority of Utah’s mines—most of which are underground—are located in rural Utah, EBM’s technology allows mining companies to not only operate more efficiently, but also helps limit the environmental impacts.

“At mines across Utah, air quality is extremely important and using fuel more efficiently will help improve the environment,” said Jeramiah Forbush, president of EBM. “Underground mines are required to monitor air quality and ventilate air flow to deliver clean air to mine workers.”

In addition to the positive economic impacts Dragon Shale and EBM anticipate, a USTAR-supported project led by University of Utah professor Jan Miller aims to take advantage of Utah’s natural resources to provide clean energy solutions and storage. Miller, a metallurgical engineering expert, is developing new lithium ion batteries made from materials only found in rural Utah.

Another company, Electric Power Systems, which is located in Logan, utilizes lithium chemistry and battery technologies to produce reliable renewable energy and storage solutions that can be used in aerospace and other industries.

“This could open up some really big doors for us and the state of Utah," said Nathan Millecam, Electric Power Systems co-founder and CEO when the company relocated to Utah to utilize USTAR’s Industry Partnership Program.

Millecam continued, “This USTAR grant gives us and the state of Utah a strategic asset to emerge as one of the leaders in (developing) these really complex energy storage systems for aircraft and for (federal certification).”

USTAR also supports other companies and projects in the cleantech and energy sector. OxEon Energy, a company that was located at the USTAR Innovation Center before moving to their own space this past spring recently secured funding from NASA to explore long-term resource management techniques on the moon and Mars. Among the other nine companies selected to participate in the program were companies such as Blue Origin, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture, and UTC Aerospace Systems, one of the world’s largest suppliers of aerospace and defense products.

To learn more about USTAR-supported companies and programs, visit ustar.org.