Challenges faced by the north fork valley
The economy of Colorado’s North Fork of the Gunnison River valley has been based on coal mining and agriculture for over 100 years. As natural gas and renewables have decreased in price, local coal mines have laid off workers and closed, forcing the region to rely more heavily on its agriculture. As is the case with many coal deposits, North Fork coal is saturated with methane and other gases. To prevent underground fires, that gas is vented during mining, and the venting continues long after mine closure. This represents a wasted resource and a source of pollution: the climate impact of vented methane is 84 times that of carbon dioxide, and other vented gases have acute toxicity.
The North Fork’s agricultural sector has a challenge as well. Much of the local water delivery system is controlled by Paonia Dam and Reservoir, where storage allows irrigation into the summer months. This storage been severely diminished by sediment build-up in the reservoir, and sediment flushing can harm the downstream ecosystem.
These problems are an opportunity.
Paonia Reservoir sediment is high-quality clay and can be converted with heat from burning the methane into useful ceramics such as brick and tile. This converts the methane and toxic gases into non-toxic carbon dioxide and water, and provides building materials to sell to Colorado’s growing population. This is also an opportunity to grow community between climate scientists, coal miners, farmers, conservationists, and builders.
collaboration to find a solution
The idea to create sustainable ceramics from waste grew out of the North Fork Coal Mine Methane Working Group, a multi-stakeholder dialogue organized by Delta County and Gunnison County whose stated mission is, "the support of the coal mines and surrounding communities in the North Fork Valley through the development of a comprehensive strategy for education, capture, exploration of mitigation, and economic utilization of coal mine methane.” Participating groups include local coal mines, Western Slope Conservation Center, Conservation Colorado, State of Colorado Energy office, Department of Local Affairs, Division of Natural Resources, land agencies, regulators, and political staff.
Bringing a Vision to Life
Delta Brick & Climate Company was founded by Christopher Caskey, a volunteer board member for the Western Slope Conservation Center and working group participant. Chris is a scientist and entrepreneur who is passionate about energy, sustainable business development, and innovation. Most recently a Research Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Colorado School of Mines, previous posts include scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, materials science consultant, and mountaineering guide. Chris holds a doctorate in applied chemistry. Delta Brick & Climate Company has received grant funding from Delta County, Gunnison County, and the State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The company recently completed the ICELab accelerator at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, and is currently designing a pilot production facility. The business takes its name from Delta Brick & Tile Company which operated in Delta County from 1905 to 1958 and produced many of the bricks that are seen in the region’s buildings today.