All glass products made in the United States include raw materials that originate in southwestern Wyoming, which is home the world’s largest trona reserves.
The trona and soda ash industry has been successful in Wyoming for decades, and as coal-fired power generation falls by record amounts, and Wyoming power plants are scheduled for closure this decade, trona industry leaders are planning expansions and community partnerships within Wyoming.
“Ciner currently has 440 employees at our Wyoming facility. We’re planning an expansion that will increase production by approximately 40%, and (will) add another 80-100 full time jobs,” said Craig Rood, director of public relations and community affairs for Ciner Resources Corporation.
In December, Ciner announced that former Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead was appointed as a member of the board of directors and general partner effective Jan. 1.
“In my time as governor, I was keenly aware and appreciative that Wyoming’s number one international export commodity was – and continues to be – soda ash,” Mead said at the time. “As governor, I saw the great benefit of Ciner mining trona and producing soda ash.”
Ciner provides high-paying jobs for Wyoming residents, and has been a valuable institution for the state for many years, he said.
“To now serve on the Ciner board as the company continues to reinvest in its operations while producing a valuable commodity that is used around the world, is exciting and a privilege,” Mead said.
Southwest Wyoming is home to the world’s largest trona reserves, Rood said. The life of the reserves is hundreds of years, and when trona is refined into soda ash, or sodium carbonate, it becomes a key ingredient used in the manufacturing of glass.
“All glass products in the United States have raw materials that originate in southwestern Wyoming, and soda ash is also used in many chemical processes for pH adjustment,” Rood said.
Soda ash is Wyoming’s largest export product. The four trona mines in the state directly employ about 3,000 employees, with thousands of other service jobs in the area.
“Many people just think of us as a mine, but we also have state-of-the-art processing facilities that turn the trona into soda ash and other products,” Rood said.
When southwest Wyoming launched its Next Gen Sector Partnership, supported by the Wyoming Business Council, manufacturing was selected as the focus for Sweetwater, Lincoln, Uinta, Sublette and Carbon counties.
Kayla McDonald, business development manager for the Sweetwater Economic Development Corporation, said there is significant involvement in the partnership from trona industry leadership.
“We just got out of a Next Gen Sector Partnership meeting, and we have a lot of involvement from the trona industry,” McDonald said in early February. “This recent meeting was about our sustainability plan. We have a lot the trona manufacturers represented … and we have a plan for the needs in the future.”
Many of the trona mines are looking at expansion and ways to be more diverse, she said. In a county where one major employer, the coal-powered Jim Bridger Power Plant owned by Rocky Mountain Power, is slated to close within the decade, this is a bright spot.
“For our county, we want to be proactive at this point, instead of reactive,” McDonald said. “We have been given a timeline for a power plant retirement, so we are trying to get ahead of that instead of being behind the ball.”
Trona industry leaders have already seen coal-impacted people applying for jobs in their field, McDonald said. As a part of the Next Gen Sector Partnership, Western Wyoming Community College is now offering an operator certificate partnership with trona industry stakeholders, she said.
“They all sat down and put together a curriculum, and this class will be a connector to the future for careers in Wyoming, and especially in Sweetwater County,” McDonald said. “It’s good timing for the community to have training at the community college, and they are also looking at some certificate programs (for other skill sets).”
Rood said trona and soda ash has historically been a very stable industry that is ready to grow.
“We have been around for 60 years, with continued growth and stability for our communities and Wyoming,” he said. “Much of the world supply of soda ash is produced in China, synthetically. The synthetic process has a much larger carbon footprint and has byproducts.
“Our natural production is more economical and more friendly to the environment. Our parent company wants to grow and make Ciner and Wyoming a much larger producer of soda ash,” he said.