Touchstone expands coal foam manufacturing research efforts

TRIADELPHIA — Brian Joseph hopes his company’s work to establish broader, alternative uses for coal will lead to hundreds of new jobs in the coming years.

Joseph, president and CEO of Touchstone Research Laboratory in Triadelphia, introduced two manufacturing programs Tuesday that will expand his business’s efforts. Until now, the company only made its heat-resistant and strong coal foam, branded CFOAM, on a limited basis for research, according to Joseph.

Now, Joseph is pushing the product to market, with hopes to apply the material to many everyday products, as well as homes and means of travel. Specifically, CFOAM, through the company’s Touchstone Advanced Composites wing, will be used to produce durable molds for manufacturing carbon fiber aircraft components.

He believes his company could help re-establish the manufacturing class in the Ohio Valley, as CFOAM and Touchstone’s aircraft molds may lead to hundreds of new jobs.

Joseph said the company already has relationships with a number of high-profile aircraft manufacturers, such as Boeing, Airbus and the Lockheed Corp., as his product is a lighter, cheaper material that bests traditional molds made from nickel.

CFOAM is highly compressed coal fused into a tight carbon unit. Under an acetylene torch, it does not burn, and it can withstand an immense amount of pressure — ideal for the production of carbon fiber parts. Joseph described it as a new material with a wide variety of possible applications.

He said there’s been little research into what else coal can be used for, so he sees plenty of potential in exploring the resource which has for so long defined West Virginia’s economy. Despite the concerns of some about coal’s impact on climate, Joseph said CFOAM is a “pretty green” product, especially when it’s compared to oil-based foams.

He said selling it hasn’t always been the easiest task because it’s fairly different from what purchasers are familiar with, but he said this has become easier as relationships with other businesses have developed.

“These innovations are leading to important new products that may very well lead us to ask ourselves someday why we burned coal,” Joseph said. “You can make so many things with it that outperform other materials.”