Emerging value-added products

ND prime spot for developing, implementing new technologies with coal

Submitted Art For Project Tundra, the North Dakota Industrial Commission has committed $15 million for a Front-End Engineering and Design Study if matching funds can be secured from the U.S. Department of Energy. The project involves technology similar to a smaller project on a Texas power plant, which is already capturing CO2. Under Project Tundra, the CO2 would be piped to western North Dakota and used for enhanced oil recovery.

North Dakota is a prime spot for developing and implementing new technologies with coal, such as capturing CO2 and utilizing CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, said Steve Van Dyke, vice president-communications for the council in Bismarck.

The Lignite Energy Council issued about 10 different reasons last year why North Dakota is this prime spot, Van Dyke said.

“One of those 10 reasons was that we have the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) in Grand Forks.” Van Dyke said. He said EERC has been been working with lignite for many years.

Chad Wocken, EERC principal engineer, Fuels Group lead, is leading the study in looking at what lignite is currently used for and other ways it can be used.

Noting there’s an 800-year supply of coal, Mike Holmes, vice president of Research and Development for the Lignite Energy Council in Bismarck, said, “We have plenty of lignite available so what else can we use it for in addition to the obvious one – making electricity?”

A fairly high-level economic analysis has been put together by the Lignite Energy Council to discuss lignite coal’s value-added products from existing lignite power plants and emerging value-added opportunities.

Currently, almost 80 percent of the lignite mined in the state is used for electrical generation, Wocken said.

However, lignite is a raw material that is also used in many other products and research is being done to expand this suite of value-added products from lignite.

According to Lignite Energy Council information:

– 79 percent of lignite is used for electricity generation.

– 13 percent of lignite is used for synthetic natural gas generation.

– 7 percent of lignite is used for fertilizer products.

– 1 percent of lignite is used for home heating and oil well drilling mud.

Wocken said greater than 50 percent of the fertilizer used in North Dakota is actually produced in the state.

He said the primary focus of the study was to look beyond electrical generation.

Current value-added products being done at existing lignite power plants are, according to Lignite Energy Council information:

– Fly ash concrete

– Bottom ash

– Heat for ethanol production

– Dryfine beneficiated coal

Fly ash is a particulate by-product of coal combustion. When used instead of cement, the fly ash makes the finish concrete stronger, more durable and easier to finish. Some producers are now replacing 30 percent or more of their cement with fly ash.

Bottom ash is another by-product of coal combustion consisting of the heavier particles remaining after pulverized coal is combusted in a furnace. It can be used as an aggregate in road bases, pavement and cement and also an alternative to sand for roads in the winter.

As coal is burned to produce electricity, a large amount of heat is generated that typically goes unused. Coal-fired power plants can use this heat. The Dakota Spirit ethanol plant at Spiritwood Station at Spiritwood is an example of this. Other uses of this heat resource include space heating, greenhouse agriculture and other industrial heating needs.

DryFining is a patented technology for using process heat and mechanical separation to dry and refine lignite coal. Developed by Great River Energy with support from the U.S. Department of Energy, the technology has been in operation at Coal Creek Station near Underwood, since 2009 and improves the efficiency of power production while also reducing emissions. DryFine lignite produced at Coal Creek is also transported to the Spiritwood Station by rail car and provides the fuel for power production and process heat for the Dakota Spirit ethanol plant.

The Great Plains Synfuels Plant at Beulah is the only commercial-scale coal gasification plant in the United States that manufactures natural gas.

Coal gasification, simply said, is essentially coal combustion with insufficent oxygen to sustain a flame.

The variety of value-added products emerging from North Dakota lignite, according to the Lignite Energy Council, include:

– Synthetic graphite is used in a wide range of industrial applications, including electrodes, brake linings, foundry operations, lubricants, refractory agents and steel manufacture. Synthetic graphite is dominant in the manufacture of anodes for batteries. Other carbon-based products that could be manufactured from lignite include activated carbon, carbon fibers for lightweight materials, and carbon nanotubes which are being studied for their unique properties and use in nano technology. Synthetic graphite (preferred in Li-ion battery manufacturing) currently sells for about $20,000 per ton which equates to a potential global market of $1.6 billion

Lignite council officials said synthetic graphite is getting so much attention is because the demand for it is growing fairly substantially for lithium Li-on batteries. Some work has been done suggesting that synthetic graphite can be made out of lignite coal but there is a lot of development that needs to be done.

Van Dyke added that North Dakota currently has 330 electrical vehicles. “We’re at the tip of the iceberg,” he said. He said there’s also electric boats now so it’s not just electrical cars.

– Leonardite is used as a soil conditioner in agriculture, as a stabilizer for ion-exchange resins in water treatment, in the remediation of polluted environments, and as an additive in drilling fluids in the oil and gas industry.

– Rare-Earth Elements (REEs) are critical components in an array of consumer goods, energy system components and military defense applications.

These rare earth metals and alloys that contain them are used in many devices that people use every day such as computer memory, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets and fluorescent lighting, according to the Geology.com website.

U.S. REEs usage also includes magnets for motors, disc drives, microphones and speakers; phosphors for medical imaging, lasers, and fiber optics; glasses, polishing and ceramics for polishing compounds, UV-resistant glass and X-ray imaging; metallurgical alloys for NiMH batteries, fuel cells and steel; catalysts (62 percent of highest percent of the U.S. use) for petroleum refining, catalytic converter, diesel additives, chemical processing and industrial pollution; and other uses include nuclear defense, water treatment, pigments and fertilizers, according to the Lignite Energy Council.

New evidence indicates North Dakota lignite may have some of the highest concentrations of certain REEs in coal seams in the nation.

Wocken said EERC has three studies going on in exploring the economics of REE extraction from coal.

He also said North Dakota’s annual consumption of nitrogen-based fertilizer is about 750,000 tons every year and the Dakota Gasification Plant near Beulah makes about 400,000 tons a year. Development technologies are being pursued to reduce the cost and improve the energy efficiency of fertilizer production.

A project to take advantage of the processed heat and CO2, funded by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, is being done. The project is examining the benefits of using low-grade heat and CO2 from a lignite-fired power plant and an ethanol production facility to support locally grown, fresh produce year-round. “It looks favorable,” Wocken said.

“When it comes to lignite, North Dakota has what’s the second largest known reserve of lignite.” Australia has the largest reserve of lignite.

“There’s plenty of coal in North Dakota, “Van Dyke added.

Power Plants

– R.M. Heskett Station near Mandan

– Coal Creek Station near Underwood

– Milton R. Young Station near Center

– Leland Olds Station near Stanton

– Antelope Valley Station near Beulah

– Coyote Station near Beulah

– Lewis & Clark Station at Sidney, Mont.

Poly-generation Plants

– Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah

– Spiritwood Station at Spiritwood


– Beulah Mine near Beulah

– Center Mine near Center

– Falkirk Mine near Underwood

– Freedom Mine near Beulah

– Coyote Creek Mine near Beulah

– Savage Mine near Savage, Mont.

(The Lewis & Clark Station and Savage Mine are included because they are also lignite-based facilities. Other power plants in Montana use sub-bituminous coal.)

Research Facilities

-Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at University of North Dakota, Grand Forks

– University of North Dakota

– National Energy Center of Excellence at Bismarck State College, Bismarck

– Source: Lignite Energy Council

ND lignite industry employs 3,800 people

Did you know?

– There are 3,800 people directly employed in the lignite coal industry in North Dakota.

– Many of them work at the mines and the Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah.

“The mines typically have more employees than the power plants do,” said Steve Van Dyke, vice president-communications for the Lignite Energy Council in Bismarck.

Van Dyke said the Coal Creek Station has 230 employees and the Falkirk Mine that surrounds it has 450 employees. The Coal Creek Station is located between Underwood and Washburn, and the Falkirk Mine is at Underwood.

“That makes North Dakota unique in that our mines and the power plants are right next to each other,” Van Dyke said. He said coal for power plants in Minnesota is actually being mined in Montana and Wyoming and being shipped.

Van Dyke said one of the reasons the Lignite Energy Council exists is they are similar to a chamber of commerce of their industry. He said 250-260 companies belong to the Lignite Energy Council. He said the council also hosts events including golf tournaments, motorcycle rides and sporting clay shoots.