Basin Electric briefs DOE head on carbon capture technology

Moniz was interested in learning about and seeing the technology used at the Synfuels Plant to convert coal into natural gas and other products, including carbon dioxide

Following a full day of testimony at the Quadrennial Energy Review, a U.S. Department of Energy event held Aug. 8 at Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited Dakota Gasification Company’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah, ND, at the invitation of U.S. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and John Hoeven (R-ND).

Moniz was interested in learning about and seeing the technology used at the Synfuels Plant to convert coal into natural gas and other products, including carbon dioxide.

“We are talking about developing the technologies that can enable coal to play a role in a low carbon world, including by getting the cost reduction by using CO2 as a valuable product for enhanced oil recovery. And this is the place to talk about that since that’s what happening. This place has put something like 25 megatons of CO2 underground to produce oil in Saskatchewan,” he said.

Moniz told the senators and Basin Electric staff that the Department of Energy has “huge money on the table to move fossil fuels along, something along the lines of $14 billion.”

Mike Eggl, Basin Electric senior vice president of communications & administration, told Moniz about the work Basin Electric staff has done on carbon dioxide. “The tripping points have largely been around that value of CO2 and how we can make that a viable product down the road. One of the things we’d like to talk to you about is how does the DOE support that?” he said.

Heitkamp told Moniz about the $100 million Department of Energy loan guarantee Basin Electric eventually refused, because carbon capture at Antelope Valley Station was not determined to be feasible, following a front-end engineering and design study. “How can we expect people to meet this standard when it’s not commercially viable to meet this standard in the near term. … We took a $100 million grant from the Department of Energy, right over here at Antelope Valley Station, to do back-end carbon capture. We turned the money back. There’s no way you could pencil that out and make that work. And it wasn’t for lack of trying because we tried … hard to get that done. So now you have to figure out how you can get coal back into the future energy mix without locking it out in the planning stages.”

Moniz said carbon does have a value in a more carbon-constrained environment. “In a world in which carbon dioxide has value and is one way or another being controlled, in that world, it is competitive,” he said. “I think the fundamental commitment is to say, if you’re going to build a coal plant for 50 years, it’s not asking for 90 percent capture, it’s asking for somewhere between 30 to 50 percent capture, depending upon what the plant is.”

Moniz touted the technology at the Synfuels Plant. “It’s somewhat ironic to me, we’re here at a plant that started 30 years ago, and it’s got the technology of the future in terms of gasification. So, it took a little while for it to come, but this place has arrived. It is the premiere example of doing large-scale gasification and then enhanced recovery.”

Moniz and Heitkamp toured PrairieWinds 1, the wind project built and operated by Basin Electric unit, PrairieWinds ND 1, after leaving the Synfuels Plant. They then spent Aug. 9 touring western North Dakota and the facilities of the Bakken oil field.

Dakota Gasification Co.’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant hit a milestone: the 30th anniversary of its first production of natural gas.

The $2.1 billion plant began operating on July 28, 1984, and is the only commercial-scale coal gasification plant in the U.S. that manufactures natural gas.

Using Lurgi gasifiers, the Synfuels Plant gasifies lignite coal to produce valuable gases and liquids. The average daily production of natural gas is about 153 million cubic feet, the majority of which is piped to Ventura, IA, for distribution in the eastern United States.

Basin Electric purchased the Synfuels Plant from the U.S. Department of Energy in 1988 after the original owners defaulted on a loan guarantee, then created for-profit subsidiary, Dakota Gas, to own and operate the plant.

Paul Sukut, Basin Electric CEO and general manager, said the Synfuels Plant is a world-class facility that plays an important part in the dynamics of the industry and has proven to be very successful.

“The Synfuels Plant represents a legacy of innovation. From our innovative approach of purchasing the fledgling facility to the technologies used that make it the cleanest energy plant in North Dakota and the largest carbon capture and storage project in the world, it’s definitely a shining star example of the great things we can do in this industry,” Sukut said.

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