Carbon XPRIZE

In this file photo, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, left, shakes hands with XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis during the presentation of the XPRIZE for Children's Literacy Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in Los Angeles.

WYOMING

High-dollar contest winners make concrete to trap carbon dioxide

CHEYENNE — Organizers of a $20 million contest to develop products from greenhouse gas that flows from power plants announced two winners April 19 ahead of launching a similar but much bigger competition backed by Elon Musk.

Both winners made concrete that trapped carbon dioxide, keeping it out of the atmosphere, where it can contribute to climate change. Production of cement, concrete's key ingredient, accounts for 7% of global emissions of the greenhouse gas, said Marcius Extavour, XPRIZE vice president of climate and energy.

Meanwhile, Musk, the electric car and space entrepreneur, has pledged $100 million for researchers who can show how to trap huge volumes of carbon dioxide straight from the atmosphere and store the gas permanently.

The $20 million prize announced April 19 had two parts: One at a coal-fired power plant in Wyoming and the other at a gas-fired power plant in Alberta, Canada. The contest focused on using carbon dioxide nabbed from the plants' smokestacks, and the winners showed they can trap the emissions in cement, making stronger concrete in some cases.

The winner at the Wyoming plant, Los Angeles-based CarbonBuilt, used carbon dioxide to cure concrete, trapping it in a process that also emitted less of the greenhouse gas compared with traditional cement production, according to XPRIZE.

The U.S. portion of the contest took place at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, a facility at a coal-fired power plant near the city of Gillette that hosts research into ways to trap and use carbon dioxide in real-world scenarios.

Gov. Mark Gordon has often touted the research center as an example of Wyoming's interest in finding solutions to climate change — potentially preserving the state's declining coal industry in the process.

THE WEST

Bankers report strong growth in rural parts of 10 states

OMAHA — Strong economic growth continues in rural parts of 10 Western and Plains states even though business continues to lag behind the level it was at before the coronavirus pandemic began, according to a new monthly survey of bankers.

The overall index for the region declined slightly from March's 71.9 but remained at a strong level of 69. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy, while a score below 50 suggests a shrinking economy.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, said improving grain prices, continued low interest rates and growing exports have all helped the economy in rural areas.

Bankers remain optimistic despite the challenges in the economy. The survey's confidence index was a healthy 72.4 in April even though it was slightly lower than March's 76.7.

Goss said the region is adding jobs at a solid pace, but region still has about 184,000 fewer jobs than before the pandemic began. The hiring index also remained strong at 62.5 even though it was lower than March's 72.9 reading.

Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

UTAH

Honduran woman exits church after 3 years in sanctuary

SALT LAKE CITY — After over three years living in a Salt Lake City church to avoid being deported, Honduran immigrant Vicky Chavez stepped outside on April 15 with tears in her eyes as church congregants and friends cheered, celebrating her newfound freedom.

Chavez and her two young daughters took sanctuary in First Unitarian Church in January 2018 after she said she fled an abusive boyfriend in Honduras and sought asylum in the United States but was denied.

Chavez entered the United States illegally in June 2014 and was ordered deported by a federal immigration judge in December 2016. After exhausting her appeals in January 2018, Chavez had a plane ticket home to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. She instead accepted an offer of sanctuary from the church.

Chavez said she received a notice from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on April 12 that she had been granted a so-called a stay of removal, which limits her risk of being deported for a year.

Chavez and her daughters were the first known immigrants to take sanctuary in Utah, according to local immigration advocates and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

MONTANA

Governor signs bills defending campus free speech

HELENA — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed two bills on April 15 that supporters say aim to protect freedom of expression and association on public university campuses in the state.

The new law prohibits universities from denying resources to religious, political or ideological student organizations even if they hold views that other students find offensive. Universities can still prohibit discrimination targeting particular students.

That bill passed the Legislature largely along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. Supporters of the measure say it is needed to avoid exclusion of groups that hold controversial views. Opponents say the measure would allow groups to receive university funding even if they uphold views that exclude or target certain students, such as members of the LGBTQ community.

The new law would also ban universities from limiting controversial speech to "free speech zones" – designated areas on campus that students and others are restricted to if they want to share views without getting approval from college officials for events that can be political in nature. Montana university officials said earlier this year that there are no free speech zones on their campuses.

NEW MEXICO

Solar entrepreneur becomes state's 1st billionaire

ALBUQUERQUE — A longtime Albuquerque resident has been listed as a billionaire on Forbes' annual list of the richest people in the world. The magazine published its latest rundown of global billionaires in early April.

Ron Corio, 59, was listed at No. 2,524, becoming the state's first billionaire, The Albuquerque Journal reported April 7. Forbes reported that Corio had a net worth of $1.1 billion as of April 6.

He is one of 2,755 global billionaires included on this year's list and one of 724 in the U.S.

Corio was born in New Jersey and moved to New Mexico in 1979, launching Array Technologies, Inc. in 1989 at the age of 28.

The company makes tracking systems for solar arrays that tilt and turn the panels to follow the sun. Array Technologies now controls 30% of the U.S. solar-tracker market, the Journal reported.

Array Technologies owns a 43,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Albuquerque, plus 26,000 square feet of office and warehousing space. It employed nearly 350 people as of last June.

'Godzilla' shark discovered in fossil dig gets formal name

SANTA FE — The 300-million-year-old shark's teeth were the first sign that it might be a distinct species.

The ancient chompers looked less like the spear-like rows of teeth of related species. They were squatter and shorter, less than an inch long, around 2 centimeters.

"Great for grasping and crushing prey rather than piercing prey," said discoverer John-Paul Hodnett, who was a graduate student when he unearthed the first fossils of the shark at a dig east of Albuquerque in 2013.

Hodnett and a slew of other researchers published their findings in mid-April in a bulletin of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science identifying the shark as a separate species.

He named the 6.7-foot monster Dracopristis hoffmanorum, or Hoffman's Dragon Shark, in honor of the New Mexico family that owns the land in the Manzano Mountains where the fossils were found.

The name also harkens to the dragon-like jawline and 2.5-foot fin spines that inspired the discovery's initial nickname, "Godzilla Shark."

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