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Energy leaders partner with UND division for carbon-capture efforts

Energy providers have officially partnered with a division of UND to develop updated carbon capture technology aimed at reducing coal-fired power plant emissions.

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Energy providers have officially partnered with a division of UND to develop updated carbon capture technology aimed at reducing coal-fired power plant emissions.

Leaders from Allete Clean Energy, Minnkota Power Cooperative, Inc., BNI Energy and UND's Energy and Environmental Research Center gathered Monday at the EERC building on campus to sign a memorandum of understanding outlining their cooperative agreement to work together to submit a bid for a competitive proposal that would be put forth by the U.S. Department of Energy.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., attended the event to introduce each representative while speaking to the project as a whole, which has been dubbed Project Tundra. The ultimate goal of the project is to reduce the level of carbon dioxide released as a byproduct of burning coal.

"It's a competitive bid, and that's why this (memorandum) between these players is so very important," Hoeven said. "Just like on the athletic field, you want to put together the best team to win. That's what they're doing here, putting together the team that can bid and win that type of work with the DOE to advance very important tech here in North Dakota."

Hoeven said he had worked to secure $30 million in funding earmarked for assisting in the development of commercially viable and retrofittable carbon capture and sequestration technology. The money is written into a bill produced by the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Committee, of which Hoeven is a member.


The bill has passed in the Senate and now awaits approval in the House, Hoeven said. He anticipated that approval could come before winter, but could possibly be deferred until next year.

Hoeven described the project as a step to "lead the way forward with clean coal technology" with a focus on creating "commercial viability" for companies to make money while adopting the scrubbing systems. One leading way to do that in North Dakota is to use captured CO2 to increase the productivity of the state's oil wells by injecting the gas back into the reservoir.

"These companies can't go out and invest hundreds of millions and then lose money-they'd go out of business," Hoeven said. " ... This is about producing more energy with better environmental stewardship."

Before they sat to sign the memorandum, the partnering entities' leaders spoke in turn about their own involvement and interests with the project.

Al Rudeck, Allete Clean Energy president, said he believed U.S. energy producers "still have use for coal."

To that effect, Rudeck said, a major part of Project Tundra is rooted in cutting carbon emissions among the "hundreds of millions of dollars in electric infrastructure" already invested throughout the country.

Mac McLennan, Minnkota Power Cooperative Inc. president, followed on that point by referencing to plants operated by Minnkota in western North Dakota with a "lot of useful life left" that could be preserved with technology designed to meet the challenge of regulatory changes.

"We're taking an interest in trying to figure out, through Tundra, two things: How do we utilize those assets that we have more cost effectively into the future and, secondly how do we preserve coal as an option for what we do in the long haul," McLennan said.


Wade Boeshans, BNI Energy president and general manager, said the project took aim at "leveraging all the resources" in the state's energy portfolio. He stated that the point was not to make wind and coal compete with one another, but rather to focus on continuing use all of the North Dakota's energy resources as a whole.

"If we're going to do that, we need carbon recovery," Boeshans said.

John Harju, EERC vice president for strategic partnerships, said he believed captured CO2 could make "meaningful changes" in increasing the efficiency of long-term oil extraction throughout the state's oil reservoirs.

"Right now we emit about 30 million tons a year of CO2 into the atmosphere," Harju said. By our recent estimates, we're suggesting we'll need somewhere between 3 to 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide to realize the advanced recovery potential of the Bakken. ... We need this, we absolutely need this at an economically viable price so that we can perpetuate the things that we do."

Harju said after the representatives signed the memorandum that the partnership was a "continuation of things that began much longer ago than today."

Though the team had begun discussion about Project Tundra about 18 months ago, Harju said the EERC had begun CO2 capture projects as far back as 2003. The work at hand, he said, is a more complete project than just developing the technology itself.

"We're starting to mature the business case," Harju said. "It's more about policy, business and technology aligning then it is about a magical breakthrough that occurred over the last few days."

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