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Triadelphia Firm Earns $2.4M Federal Grant for CFOAM Research

Photo by Joselyn King Building blocks made of CFOAM, a coal byproduct, are displayed at the Touchstone campus in Triadelphia.

TRIADELPHIA — Buildings in the future may someday be constructed from a West Virginia coal byproduct, with locally made CFOAM blocks replacing concrete blocks.

The problem with using CFOAM in mass quantities always has been that it takes a while to produce, and can be costly, explained Rudy Olson, general manager of CFOAM LTD. on the Touchstone campus in Triadelphia.

But CFOAM LTD received in late December a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to further its research into mass producing CFOAM blocks and making them more affordable for high levels of use.

Olson and two colleagues were on their way Monday to the Selee Corporation in Hendersonville, North Carolina, with a supply of coal on board. They plan to test making CFOAM on a continuous conveyor belt inside a kiln located at Selee to see if it speeds up the process.

If experiments this week are successful, Olson said the kiln operation will be disassembled and transported to the CFOAM in Triadelphia. Historically, CFOAM’s parent company Touchstone always used an autoclave — a machine that uses pressurized steam — to make the product.

“This process was kind of expensive, and kind of slow,” he said. “When you think of using lots of coal — if you are going to do this on a large scale — you don’t want to use autoclaves.”

CFOAM has properties desirable for construction, Olson explained. It is resistant to fire, water, mold and mildew, and has a high strength-to-weight ratio. The product also can be made into aggregate, he said, making it ideal for use in lightweight concrete or asphalt applications.

If the use of CFOAM catches on, that could result in greater need for domestic coal, Olson said.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” he said. “We think that’s what it’s going to take to take us to the next level. We have to grow to be successful, and it is nice the U.S. Department of Energy recognizes us and gives us credence.

“It gives us a chance to take the company to the next level,” Olson said.

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