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EERC project wins $6 million in federal funding

EERC test site for carbon dioxide injections in oil extraction. (EERC photo)

A UND research unit has received a $6 million in federal funding to develop technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from a North Dakota coal-fired power plant.

Members of the state's Senate delegation announced on Friday the funding award to the Energy and Environmental Research Center, a facility on the UND campus that works mainly on projects connected to fossil fuels.

The most recent federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Energy will go to Project Tundra, an ongoing EERC initiative to retrofit the Milton R. Young Station, near Center, N.D., with a carbon capture system. Such technology is now in demand as regulators seek to reduce carbon emissions that are thought to be a key contributor to man-made climate change.

The carbon capture effort comes alongside other research at the EERC intended to make coal and natural gas-fired power plants more efficient using a technological approach known as the

Allam Cycle, a method that has carbon capture benefits. Earlier this year, that line of research at UND was awarded a separate $700,000 grant from the DOE.

Press releases from the offices of U.S. Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said the money from the DOE would go toward the system's design and testing. Hoeven's office said the $6 million grant would also cover a feasibility study to determine if the carbon capture technology is commercially viable for use at other facilities.

Both senators touted the research behind Project Tundra as instrumental to preserving North Dakota's energy sector, which includes a major base in lignite coal.

Heitkamp spoke in her release to carbon capture tech as a means of building a "long-term path forward" for coal, which she described as one of the "traditional energy sources" that fuel the state's power grids. The DOE grant should help "continue to make coal energy more competitive and cleaner," Heitkamp said.

That line of reasoning was also made by Hoeven, who pointed in his own statement to Project Tundra as an example of innovative work done by North Dakota's energy sector.

"This technology holds the promise of reducing or eliminating emissions at our existing power plants in a cost-effective manner, which means we can continue to have reliable and affordable energy while also advancing better environmental stewardship," Hoeven said.

The award of the DOE funding is the end result of a competitive process tackled by the EERC and a set of partners. The research facility joined efforts in 2016 with electricity provider Minnkota Power Cooperative, Inc., as well as power company Allete Clean Energy and the coal-focused BNI Energy, to submit a bid to win the grant, which was included in the federal government's funding bill for fiscal year 2017.

Those partners will continue to work with EERC to develop the project.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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