It was unnecessary to feign surprise when a planned advanced coal gasification technology project was put “on hold” at the University of Wyoming late last week.

“Capital from the private sector only flows to large and ambitious projects when there is reasonably regulatory, legal and financial certainty,” Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said in responding to the delay on the $100 million High Plans Gasification – Advanced Technology Center. “This is a real world example of the local impact of the federal government’s failure to provide a policy path forward for energy use in America.”

The governor’s office said he felt the decision “and possibly other energy sector decisions to delay projects are not unexpected.”

The project has been postponed rather than canceled, representatives of the Center told Breaking Energy. GE Energy says it plans to reassess the environment for the project in 18 to 24 months. GE and the University of Wyoming

The gasification center was expected to begin construction in 2012 and take between 24 and 30 months to complete, with operations starting in 2014. The center would test the use of coal from the Powder River Basin in gasification processes, and would be 1% of the size of a standard commercial unit, documents from the center say. The center’s current site, selected in mid-2009, is in Laramie County, Wyoming.

Wyoming is a major producer of coal, much of it with a lower heat content and different chemical properties than the coal types traditionally used in much of the US. As producers in other parts of the country have slowed their output of coal, producers in Wyoming have taken a larger share of the market, and now produce roughly 40% of the country’s total output, Governor Mead’s office said.

For more on coal’s role in the US electricity sector, read: King Coal.

Coal gasification has been held out as the best potential hope for continued use of coal as emissions restrictions continue to intensify in the US. By turning the coal into a gas stream before igniting it to heat boilers, pollution streams can be isolated and potentially reused or stored rather than emitted into the environment. The technology is not new, but the particular makeup of Wyoming coal and the challenges in isolating individual chemical streams have made commercial-scale experiments and detailed research efforts key to widespread adoption of the technology.