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Rick Steelhammer: Spinning coal into strands of diamonds

If I read the transcript to Gov. Justice’s State of the State address correctly, we could be on the brink of having deals in hand in coming days and weeks to:

  • Locate a Ramaco research center at West Virginia University and an affiliated factory in Southern West Virginia, each involved in the process of spinning thermal coal into valuable strands of carbon fiber twice as strong as, and one-fourth the weight of, steel.
  • Build a research center and demonstration site at WVU for the Virgin Hyperloop One, which turns out not to be a birth control device, as its name suggests. Instead, it’s a magnetic levitation transport system capable of carrying encapsulated, tube-traveling passengers hundreds of non-stop miles, without the expense or boring banter of a driver, at speeds of 600 mph. Time for WVU’s People Mover to take the next monorail out of Morgantown? Well, the governor says President Trump has given a thumbs-up to the idea of including the project in his long-overdue infrastructure program. As the president would say, we’ll see.
  • Build a factory, again near Morgantown and WVU, to produce high-lumen, low-energy lighting at low cost, through a proprietary process developed by an unnamed Welsh firm.

While all three concepts could be seen as examples of thinking outside the box, officials in 20 or more states are having the same out-of-box thoughts for the first two projects.

To create a competitive edge, maybe West Virginia officials should consider linking the first two projects together. Connect one end of a cable of super-strong, ultralight Ramaco carbon fiber filaments spun from West Virginia coal to a towbar on the Virgin Hyperloop One. The other end of the cable would be wrapped tightly multiple times around a one-ton chunk of high-carbon coal.

Once the Virgin Hyperloop One reaches 600 mph — and the end of any slack remaining in the cable — the sudden pressure that follows would compress the one-ton lump of coal into a 4.54 million carat lab diamond.

Well, that’s the principle, anyway. It worked for Superman. Maybe I’ll pitch it to a few states for some research money, and produce a few jobs before the grants run out.


And here, as promised, are the answers to last Sunday’s quiz:

1. Clopper Road at Gaithersburg, Maryland, was the road songwriters Bill and Taffy Nivert Danoff were driving along when they began creating “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

2. “Naked ladies, men who look like Christ; a dog named Pancho nibblin’ on the rice,” was the lyric to the above song John Denver insisted on removing to avoid snags in getting an album made, or having radio air time reduced.

3. Steve Harvey was the McDowell County-born game show host who became upset when the co-host of his New Year’s countdown show, Rob Gronkowski, spiked and destroyed a LEGO statue of Harvey’s head and shoulders on Jan. 1 2020.

4. Trick answer: West Virginia was the nation’s first state to use television cameras to both (A) record court proceedings (at Charleston Municipal Court) and (C) monitor traffic in a highway tunnel (Memorial Tunnel, West Virginia Turnpike).

5. Wheeling’s Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco launched America’s most iconic, and earliest multi-state, outdoor advertising campaign, by painting the company’s logo and the words “Chew Mail Pouch, treat yourself to the best” on barns within easy eyeshot of highways in 12 states, starting in 1890.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow

@rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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Funerals for Sunday, January 19, 2020

Atkins Sr., Dennis - 2 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Crislip, Edna - 2 p.m., Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.

Driggs Sr., Phillip - 4 p.m., St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Charleston.

Sigmon, Steven - 4 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.