Next Generation Coal Technology Comes to Life – Wyoming’s ITC
By Jason Begger, Wyoming Infrastructure Authority
Americans enjoy one of the most reliable, affordable power supplies in the world. Every time we flip on a light switch, we expect the lights to come on. And they do, in large part thanks to coal. Coal is a top U.S. energy source, and its reliability is a big reason those lights come on when we flip that switch. For decades, America has depended on coal to meet our energy needs. Wyoming, as the nation’s leading coal producing state for over thirty years, has been an important part of meeting that demand.
Despite mounting pressure from government regulations and increasing market competition, America still depends on coal. Alternative forms of energy are simply not ready to carry the nation’s energy demands. We can’t afford to leave coal behind.
Coal must innovate to secure its place as a responsible contributor to future global energy production. That’s why Wyoming is investing in the future of coal‐based energy solutions by building a next generation testing facility called the Wyoming Integrated Test Center (ITC). The Wyoming ITC will be a home for researchers to test and develop the technology‐based solutions necessary to keep America’s lights on.
COAL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
Wyoming has enjoyed a long history of strength in coal mining, making it the ideal location to foster the next generation of advanced coal technology. Since 1865, Wyoming coal mines have produced 10.6 billion tons of coal.
Since 1986, Wyoming has been the United States’ number one coal producing state primarily because of the vast reserves found in the Powder River Basin (PRB). The PRB coal seams are one of the largest, most economical energy reserves on the planet, and the PRB is the largest coal basin in the U.S. Roughly 40 percent of the all coal used annually is mined in Wyoming.
Wyoming’s low‐sulfur, sub‐bituminous coal is cleaner burning and found close to the surface, making it cheaper and easier to mine. Environmental stewardship is an important part of mining, and there is a strong history of that as well. According to the Wyoming Mining Association, almost 50 percent of Wyoming land that has been mined and that’s not currently in use, has either been reclaimed or is in the process of being reclaimed. Efficient mining means lower production costs and that helps Wyoming coal to compete and means better electricity rates for consumers.
FEELING THE PINCH
In 2016, national coal production was estimated to have fallen 18 percent and reached historical lows unseen since 1978. The PRB experienced the largest ever‐single year decline in production, falling below 300 million tons for the first time in nearly 20 years. Hundreds of PRB coal miners lost jobs and Wyoming state revenue is facing alarming deficits.
Coal production has been the foundation of the modern Wyoming economy for over 40 years. The industry has provided jobs and a steady source of tax revenue that’s used to fund schools and local government. But in the recent energy market, Wyoming’s coal industry is feeling the pressure. And in a state where coal accounts for more than 30 percent of state revenue, education funding is facing serious shortfalls. Wyoming’s education system depends on mineral‐based tax revenues for 65% of its funding. Lower fossil fuel prices over the past two years have resulted in education funding deficits that could be as high as $400 million annually and reach $1.8 billion over the next 5 years.
Wyoming workers, communities, schools and local governments count on coal. Securing coal’s place in the energy market for the long‐term will not only allow Wyoming families to continue to thrive, but also help America responsibly utilize its energy reserves so we can independently meet our future energy needs. Achieving such a goal requires innovation and the development of breakthrough technology. And that’s exactly what Wyoming is focused on achieving with the ITC.
WYOMING INTEGRATED TEST CENTER
The Wyoming ITC is a next generation testing facility being built just outside Gillette, Wyoming at Dry Fork Station, which is jointly owned by Basin Electric Power Cooperative and the Wyoming Municipal Power Agency. It will provide researchers with pilot‐scale demonstration sites to develop new ways of removing and utilizing carbon emissions from coal‐fired power plants.
The center will feature six test bays; five small bays providing up to 0.4 MW of flue gas, and one large bay which can provide up to 18 MW of flue gas. Each site will be provided with scrubbed flue gas directed from the Dry Fork Station.
Upon its targeted completion in late Summer 2017, the ITC will be one of just a handful of facilities around the world, and only the second in the United States, capable of demonstrating the real world use of clean energy technologies at scale. Currently, most carbon capture technologies are developed in laboratories where researchers have to rely on simulated flue gas and are forced to transport technology between the lab and field to conduct tests. By putting researchers on‐site, with direct access to coal fired power flue gas, the ITC will provide a nearly unmatched opportunity to advance and scale Carbon Capture Utilization and Sequestration (CCUS) technologies under real world conditions.
“The biggest goal is to build these technologies that will allow coal to be used long into the future. Coal is approximately one‐third of state revenues and if that goes away, you know the state is going to be hurting”, said Jason Begger, Executive Director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority.
Carbon capture technology has the potential to revolutionize how we use fossil fuels. By transforming carbon dioxide emissions into valuable, revenue‐producing products, CCUS stands to improve the economics of carbon removal. And when it comes to what carbon can be used for, the sky is the limit. Researchers have been looking at ways to repurpose carbon dioxide emissions into products like carbon negative bio‐fuels, cooking oils, fish food, plastics and enhanced concrete. A breakthrough in CCUS could be game changing for coal production, not only helping to boost production while addressing emissions concerns, but also in turning what was once deemed a waste product into a valuable commodity.
Such a groundbreaking project was made possible through the hard work and joint efforts of the State of Wyoming, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Tri‐State Generation & Transmission Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE. The ITC has proven to be a model example of public‐private cooperation.
Governor Matt Mead and the Wyoming Legislature have made it a goal to expand Wyoming’s vast energy resources to new markets.
“We are making an investment in the future of coal. The research at the ITC will lead to new opportunities in petrochemicals and other commercial uses for carbon dioxide,” said Governor Mead. “We lead the nation in coal production. This facility allows us to provide the same leadership in research and to do all we can to make sure the coal industry can continue to serve Wyoming and the country for many years to come.”
XPRIZE, the world’s leader in designing and managing incentive competitions to solve humanity’s biggest challenges, will be the first tenant of the Wyoming ITC. The NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE is a global competition to develop breakthrough technologies that convert the most carbon dioxide emissions from power plant facilities into products with the highest net value. There are currently 27 teams competing as semi‐finalists in the $20 million competition. The teams hail from six countries – Switzerland, China, India, Scotland, Canada and the United States. Their innovative, diverse approaches to CO2 utilization include converting carbon emissions into valuable products such as fish food, fertilizer, carbon nanotubes and building material.
The ITC will be available for testing in Fall 2017. For more information on the Wyoming ITC, visit www.wyomingitc.org.