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Project Tundra reduces CO2

Young Station pilots technology for carbon capture

Submitted Photo The Milton R. Young Station near Center burns lignite coal from a nearby mine.

CENTER – A pilot project at Minnkota Power Cooperative’s Milton R. Young Station near Center is proving the feasibility of technology to capture carbon from North Dakota lignite coal.

Project Tundra is in an advanced research phase and results indicate the technology could be ready for commercial construction in a few years.

More than 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions from the station’s largest unit generator would be captured and stored more than a mile underground if the project moves forward, making North Dakota a world leader in the development of next-generation energy technologies.

“When you look at where we are in the development phase, we’re one of the leading projects, not only around the country but the world at this point, in terms of what we’ve already accomplished,” said Stacey Dahl, senior manager of external affairs for Minnkota.

The project has been in review for the past five years.

“A lot has changed, but the project continues to get traction and garner interest,” Dahl said. “There was a group of developers that brought the project to us. The project dynamics have changed over the last five years, but that includes Minnkota not just being the host site but really taking the lead on the development role.”

Minnkota went into the project knowing it would take tremendous state and federal support,” Dahl said. A similar pilot project using sub-bituminous coal in Texas had a model using large federal grants and a mix of state and local incentives, and Minnkota presumed the same model for Project Tundra.

Minnkota secured $9.8 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and $15 million from the state of North Dakota’s Lignite Research Fund in 2019 to conduct a Front-End Engineering and Design study.

As federal policy has changed, the 45Q tax credit for carbon capture projects, passed in 2018, became a financial driver for Project Tundra. The tax credit supplies $50 a ton for sequestered CO2 and $35 a ton for CO2 captured for enhanced oil recovery. Dahl said the hope is to use captured CO2 from Milton Young for enhanced oil recovery down the road, although geologic sequestration is the primary focus currently. Minnkota is working with Eagle Energy Partners to explore enhanced oil recovery opportunities in western North Dakota.

Minnkota calculates the tax credit should pay for capital costs, operating and maintenance costs over the life of the project and provide a return to investors. However, there’s still work that must occur to finalize the design, which will influence cost.

Minnkota has stated it would not pursue Project Tundra if it substantially increases electric rates. The current plan is to form partnerships that will allow for the use of 45Q federal tax credits to offset the approximately $1 billion capital project cost.

Minnkota wants to have permitting complete by the end of 2021 and financing in place in early 2022, allowing for construction to potentially start by the end of 2022. It is estimated that the construction of Project Tundra would create an additional 2,000 temporary construction jobs in Oliver and Mercer counties.

Project Tundra uses amine-based technologies. Amines are organic compounds derived from ammonia.

“Amines have been around for decades, and they’ve been demonstrated over the course of those decades to work very well at binding to CO2. It just happens to be a very energy-intensive process to do that, which has been one of the reasons these projects are so expensive, in addition to large capital costs,” Dahl said.

Minnkota has been working with the Energy & Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks for four years to study the impacts of amines and how they interact with the flue gas from lignite coal.

“We’ve not only looked at it in the lab, but we’ve done on-site pilot testing as well, which is why the degree of confidence is so high in terms of being able to capture the CO2,” Dahl said.

There’s confidence in sequestering the CO2 thousands of feet underground, too, because much is known about the geology of the area, given the research related to oil development. The area has unique geologic formations that enable sequestration of the proposed 4 million tons a year from the Young station.

“There are already fluids that have been trapped in those formations for millions of years, and we know that that there are essentially impermeable layers that will trap the CO2, just as they have trapped other gases and fluids in them in those formations,” Dahl said.

Minnkota is considering two sites for sequestration. One is under the plant site and the other is four to five miles to the northwest, just south of the city of Center. CO2 would be piped to the farther site.

The major hurdles ahead are permitting and financing of the project. Work is ongoing to obtain permits for the capture facility and the subsurface CO2 storage facility. That process can take a year or longer.

The state of North Dakota, rather than the federal government, handles the majority of permitting, including having primacy over the process for injecting CO2 underground. North Dakota currently is the only state to have primacy over that program.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is because we’ve seen such a wide swing in regulations,” Dahl said. “Rather than try and withstand the swings of regulation or other policies, we want to use technology for the benefit of our membership to preserve the assets that we have, and certainly the Milton R. Young station is a very valuable asset to our membership. It’s very stable. It’s very reliable and, ultimately, it’s cost effective.”

Dahl said the hope is to see the technology employed throughout the lignite industry. The technology is important to preserve coal, particularly lignite coal, as a stable, reliable source of energy, she said. That is important not just for North Dakota because more than half the world’s coal reserves are low-ranked coals like lignite, she said.

Operated by Minnkota Power Cooperative, the Young Station is a mine-mouth generating station that uses lignite coal supplied from the adjacent BNI Coal mine to produce power for consumers in North Dakota and Minnesota. Unit 2, a 455-megawatt unit that began commercial operation in 1977, is the target for Project Tundra. The plant has a smaller Unit 1.

About $425 million already has been invested at the Young Station to meet current emissions control standards.

Company drills well for carbon sequestering

RICHARDTON – Red Trail Energy is drilling a stratigraphic well, designed to be permitted as a Class VI injection well for sequestering carbon dioxide from the company’s ethanol plant in Richardton.

The drill pad for the well was complete in March, and drilling was to start this month. The injection well will extend more than a mile underground, with drilling taking about 23 days and involving the collection of multiple core samples, sealing the well walls with concrete and a nickel casing and installing an array of sensors to monitor temperature and pressure.

The capture and storage of CO2 will enable the facility to sell to states with low carbon fuel standards, such as those on the West Coast.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, secured final approval for North Dakota’s regulatory primacy over Class VI injection wells, which are used for geologic or long-term storage of CO2, the first such approval in the nation.

The state Legislature created a regulatory framework for carbon sequestration under the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

“Our efforts to advance the development of commercially-viable carbon capture technologies benefit both traditional energy producers and renewable energy, giving companies like Red Trail Energy access to new markets by leveraging their work to capture and store CO2,” Hoeven said. “This means better prices for ethanol producers as well as farmers, all while empowering greater energy production with fewer emissions.”

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