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Wyoming clean coal research facility dedicated

May 17, 2018

In this May 16, 2018 photo from left, Paul Kukut, CEO of Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Gov. Matt Mead and Marcius Extavour, senior director of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize walk across the Integrated Test Center grounds before the facility's dedication ceremony in Gillette, Wyo. (Rhianna Gelhart /Gillette News Record via AP)

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) — To the untrained eye, the 226,000 square feet of leveled ground with intermittent pipe couplings looks like a big, empty space.

That’s not what Ted Jones sees.

“I see opportunity,” said Jones, a member of Carbon Cure Technologies, a research team based out of Halifax, Canada, and one of five NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize finalists that will occupy one of the five small research bays at the Integrated Test Center.

“I see opportunity to make concrete better,” Jones said Wednesday while looking over the newly finished ITC adjacent to Dry Fork Station, a coal-fired power plant about 10 miles north of Gillette.

He was among dozens of research team members, along with Gov. Matt Mead and energy officials from the United States and Japan, who crowded under a tent for a standing-room-only dedication ceremony for the ITC. The research space will enable teams to develop practical ways to capture waste carbon dioxide from power plants and to make valuable products with it.

For Jones and his team, that means infusing waste CO2 into building materials in a way that makes them stronger, the Gillette News Record reported .

“Carbon Cure has a process that takes CO2 as a waste product and has found a way to incorporate it into concrete to make stronger concrete,” he said. “It’s a real opportunity to do something that’s beneficial because it uses a waste product and it’s good for business because it makes stronger concrete.”

Jones said that, if successful, the impact of repurposing waste CO2 from power plants “is unbelievable. If it were employed globally, it would reduce CO2 by 700 megatons and provide about $26 billion worth of efficiencies to concrete production.”

The potential for innovations like that proposed by Carbon Cure and the other XPrize teams are why Mead said the results of research done at the ITC will be more than a game-changer for the energy industry.

It will be “one of the most monumental achievements of the century,” he said, adding that Wednesday’s dedication is the product of more than four years of vision and passion from Wyoming and industry officials.

Mead said he first began thinking about making CO2 capture and reuse more than theoretical early in his first term as governor while talking with officials from other states about their visions for a long-term energy strategy.

One of those ideas was to mine asteroids.

“I thought, if we can mine asteroids, we can dang sure continue mining coal,” Mead said, adding that the first big hurdle was changing some mindsets that solving the CO2 waste problem is doable.

“It’s easy to say no to things and it’s easier yet to say no to things that are new, that are innovative and nobody has done before,” he said. “You have to have people step up and believe in it.”

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which owns Dry Fork Station, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Rural Electric Cooperative Association share that belief, Mead said. So does the Wyoming Legislature, which made the ITC more than a pipe dream when it allocated $15 million to build it.

“Asking for $15 million is different from, ‘Hey, can I borrow a pencil?’” he said. “It’s a significant ask, and our Wyoming Legislature stepped up in a big way.”

Because Basin Electric embraced the ITC and allowed it to be tied into the Dry Fork Station power plant, one of the newest and cleanest coal-burning plants in the United States, the research teams are set up for success, said Marcius Extavour, senior director of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize.

“An operating power station is going to let a crazy, new — they’re not crazy — new technologies move in right next door and try things that haven’t been tried before,” he said. “I’m making a joke about it, but it’s truly unusual.

“This is the type of thinking we need to transform our energy system and move forward and bring new ideas . into the real world.”

For its part, the XPrize foundation announced the 10 finalist teams for its $20 million Carbon XPrize competition last month, five teams for the ITC and five for a gas-fired plant in Canada. Those finalists each received $500,000 to continue their research at the plants, and the winner from each track will get a $7.5 million payout.

That type of incentive has kick-started and fast-tracked CO2 research efforts, Extavour said.

“We’re here to accelerate,” he said. “We’re trying to get these companies to move fast. We want to act now.

“We also want to innovate. What does that mean? Do things differently, do things better and hopefully in a way that takes us forward. That means innovation to continue our resource economy, our energy economy and to de-carbonize it.”

That vision is shared by the ITC partners, said Paul Sukut, CEO for Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

“We need in America an all-of-the-above energy solution,” he said, adding that can start at the ITC. “More than ever in our time, this is one of the most important projects in America.”

As important as the spirit of innovation in government and the energy industry has been, so are the ground-level efforts of the Gillette community, which has embraced the potential of the facility, Extavour said.

“It’s really the focus and support of this community and the broader Wyoming communities that are going to make this project a success and have made it the success it is today,” he said.

While many may still look at the Integrated Test Center and see just a large patch of open space, it’s a facility full of potential.

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Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

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