Dr. Caleb Hill is advancing the way the world thinks about sustainable technology using an unexpected source—coal.
After receiving his doctorate in physical chemistry from UA in 2014, Hill spent two years at the University of Texas at Austin as a postdoctoral researcher and then became an assistant professor of analytical chemistry at the University of Wyoming in 2016. There, he has started his own laboratory focused on nanoscale chemical analysis.
In addition to his academic research, Dr. Hill and his wife, Dr. Kristin R. Di Bona, also a UA alumna, founded Wyonics, LLC, a research and development company. Wyonics is dedicated to developing sustainable technologies and resources. Though Wyonics is pursuing projects in a variety of areas, the company is has recently been developing new ways that rare earth elements can be recovered from coal via electrodeposition.
“Electrodeposition is attractive because it can recover metals directly from complicated mixtures, such as solutions of dissolved coal,” Hill said. “This is where the sustainability comes in. If we can demonstrate it’s feasible to efficiently extract high value products from coal, we can make this more economically attractive than using coal for power. We’re not trying to take down the coal industry, we’re trying to steer it in a more sustainable, environmentally friendly direction by making it too valuable to simply burn.”
Wyonics is expanding faster than Hill expected, and the cutting-edge research has led the company to Phase I funding from the U.S. Department of Energy totaling $150,000.
“It’s essentially a short-term grant that we use to demonstrate the feasibility for process,” Hill said. “Once we demonstrate this technology, we plan to license it out to coal companies in Wyoming and elsewhere.”