EERC is ‘cracking the code’ on energy research

Known mostly by its initials — EERC — the research hub sits on the campus of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and has been making waves in the energy sector for decades.

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U.S. Sen. John Hoeven discusses a $1.4 million Dept. of Energy award to EERC for new carbon capture technology Friday with UND president Andrew Armacost, EERC vice-president for strategic partnerships John Harju and EERC CEO Charles Gorecki. (Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald)

The Energy and Environmental Research Center has been busy over the last couple of years.

Known mostly by its initials — EERC — the research hub sits on the campus of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and has been making waves in the energy sector for decades, most recently in carbon capture and storage.

At the beginning of February it was announced that the EERC had been awarded $1.4 million to enhance the capability of geologic carbon dioxide storage, the Grand Forks Herald reported. The award shows the "high quality work" and is "another step in the journey" toward successfully capturing carbon, according to regional leaders.

That award addresses carbon capture utilization and storage, or CCUS operations, at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant in Beulah, North Dakota. The expansion of CCUS technology under the award makes the plant the largest CCUS project utilizing geologic storage in the world.

But it’s not the only strides the EERC has been making over the last year. Charles Gorecki, CEO of the EERC, said the research center had great fiscal years in 2021 and 2022. So far, 2023 is shaping up the same.


“(We’ve) been on a really great trajectory for the last decade,” he said, adding the organization has done more to invest in its people and focus on its core values. “We don't produce volumes of things (at the EERC). We solve problems. So the best way that we know how to do that is to create a great team culture at the EERC.”

The EERC has seen growth in particular over the last three or four years, Gorecki said, and now has around 280 employees.

And its project portfolio has continued to evolve, too, Gorecki pointed out. The EERC has had three successive years of record research expenditures, including around $50 million last year, made up of about one-third through state of North Dakota sources, a third through the federal government and the last third made up of industry.

And the Great Plains Synfuels project is just one part of a larger area the EERC is working on when it comes to carbon capture. Red Trail Energy in Richardton, North Dakota – in the state’s western side – is capturing CO2 from its ethanol facility and storing it in the subsurface. After starting work in mid-June, the facility had already stored 82,000 tons of carbon dioxide, Gorecki said. The EERC has a research monitoring program that is overlaying on top of that, and the center is working with people in Japan to have real-time monitoring of the injected CO2.

“That's the goal. It's just very exciting,” he said. “Because that kind of technology helps reassure the public in particular that it's safe, it's permanently stored, these types of things. So, I think that was really exciting. And Red Trail is the first commercial project to start in the state. And it will be the first … I believe of many projects that will be coming soon.”

The EERC has been working on CO2 storage since 2003, Gorecki said. The organization has gone through the entire technology development process from first figuring out where and how the carbon could be captured, to where it could be stored, how it’s used for enhanced oil recovery all the way through pilot projects and now to where it’s being commercially deployed.

“(It’s) so exciting,” Gorecki said.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the EERC is “cracking the code” in the energy industry.


“This is the second time North Dakota has cracked the code — the first instance being our discovery of both a commercially and technologically viable way to extract oil from the Bakken formation,” Hoeven said during the February press conference. “For many years, we have had the most advanced coal-fired energy industry in the nation, thanks to the work of the EERC and others. This …is just another step in the journey and path you’ve created toward successfully capturing carbon, and having a coal-fired energy program that not just survives, but thrives.”

Gorecki said researchers have also been busy finding additional ways to use lignite coal, including the creation of graphite and graphene from North Dakota’s lignites. Gorecki called it a “really exciting prospect,” as the materials have several different uses.

Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.

For story pitches contact her at or call her at 701-780-1134.
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