NDIC approves $1.5 investment in CarbonSAFE project

At its March 15th meeting, the North Dakota Industrial Commission approved $1.5 million from the Lignite Research and Development funds for a “CarbonSAFE” project that will be overseen by the Energy & Environmental Center in Grand Forks, ND.

The total cost of the project is nearly $14 million with the bulk of the money coming from the U.S. Department of Energy. The two-year project includes drilling two deep test characterization wells – one in Oliver County and one in Mercer County – to better understand the geology that could be used for underground storage of carbon dioxide. The test characterization wells are temporary in nature and will be developed and closed following North Dakota Industrial Commission standards.

“This is a critical project for the lignite industry,” said Mike Holmes, vice president of research and development for the Lignite Energy Council. “As we continue advancing carbon capture technologies such as the Allam Cycle and Project Tundra, we also need to be studying ways to use and store the carbon dioxide.”

The objective of the CarbonSAFE project is to address the technical, financial, legal and political challenges associated with developing a commercial-scale geologic CO2 storage site to promote North Dakota’s statewide vision for carbon management associated with using lignite to generate electricity and possibly other fuels and fertilizers in the future.

Wes Peck, principle geologist at EERC, will handle the project management on behalf of the project partners, which include DOE and NDIC along with Basin Electric Power Cooperative, ALLETE Clean Energy, BNI Energy, North American Coal, Minnkota Power Cooperative and others. The two-year project will include a series of open houses to communicate the details of the project, to gather public input and the planning and drilling test characterization wells that will yield the greatest benefit/cost result and provide the most effective means of diminishing technical risks.

“As the country moves forward to power plants that can capture CO2,” Holmes added, “we need to find cost-effective ways to both capture and store CO2. While we expect to use CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, we also need to have a back-up plan. This particular project will evaluate commercial readiness for geologic storage of at least 50 million metric tons at these sites.”

Peck said that “the formation of interest is about 6,000 feet below the surface, and is thought to be ideally suited for the geologic storage of CO2. One of the leading objectives of this project is to verify that assumption.”

The Lignite Research and Development Program is a partnership between the state of North Dakota and industry. Since its beginning in 1987, the program has provided $63.5 million in state funds for more than 200 lignite R&D projects. The total investment to date for all projects is more than $650 million. For every state dollar invested, more than nine dollars comes from other sources – including industry, research entities and the Department of Energy, demonstrating the truly collaborative nature of the research.