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Researchers study feasibility of full-scale carbon capture facility at ND plant

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Researchers study feasibility of full-scale carbon capture facility at ND plant

Researchers from the University of North Dakota have begun studying the feasibility of installing an industrial-scale carbon capture facility at a lignite coal plant in North Dakota.

"We have been financed by the project partners and by the North Dakota Industrial Commission to do the pilot testing to develop the scale-up concept for the project," John Harju, vice president for strategic partnerships at the university's Energy and Environmental Research Center, told S&P Global Market Intelligence. "EERC is putting together the technical road map for implementation of solvent-based carbon capture at the Milton R. Young facility."

The study will determine whether an initial pilot project of up to 10 MW will be enough proof to scale the project up to the hundreds of MWs necessary for an industrial-size carbon capture facility, Harju said. The goal is to see progress at bringing the cost of CO2 capture down as well as increasing the value of the gas for the oil market. Toward this end, he said the passage of legislation intended to extend the federal 45Q tax credits for carbon capture would help greatly. The pilot project partners are the North Dakota Industrial Commission, Minnkota Power Coop, Inc and ALLETE Inc. and some of its subsidiaries.

The planned facility, called Project Tundra, would be attached to the Milton R. Young lignite coal plant owned by Minnkota and Square Butte Electric Cooperative Inc., where it would capture carbon for use in enhanced oil recovery, similar to the Petra Nova plant in Texas.

Harju said the researchers hope to complete the initial phase by fall 2018. At that point, he said, a decision will be made whether to do an intermediate-scale pilot plant or whether to go straight to full industrial size.

The Milton R. Young plant is supplied by the Center mine, owned by ALLETE. The mine produced 4.3 million tons of lignite in 2016, according to data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The EERC also is conducting a yearlong study to evaluate the economic effects of a project capturing carbon dioxide at an existing facility and moving it to oil fields for use in enhanced recovery, such as oil and employment taxes, higher quantities of oil extraction and the ultimate downstream impacts. Harju said the goal is to better understand the entire value chain the project would add to an area in which energy is a "pillar of the economy."

Lignite coal in North Dakota and elsewhere has shown surprising resiliency over the industry's downturn, but it is facing some pressure from wind power.