U.S. Senate bill could boost Wyo. carbon capture projects

By: 
Michael Illiano The Sheridan Press Via Wyoming News Exchange

SHERIDAN — A bipartisan bill introduced to the U.S. Senate recently could energize clean-coal research in Wyoming.
The Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act, which was cosponsored by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, would support carbon capture research and streamline federal processes to allow for faster development of carbon capture-research-related infrastructure.
Carbon capture processes aim to collect the carbon dioxide that is emitted by coal-fired plants in order to reduce pollution.
Jason Begger, the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority’s executive director, said there are several proven methods for accomplishing this, but carbon capture research is focused primarily on developing cost effective ways for collectiong carbon dioxide emissions.
Begger said because society is beginning to demand cleaner energy, finding sustainable carbon capture technologies will be crucial to the future of Wyoming’s energy resources.
“Almost two-thirds of our tax revenue comes from fossil energy resources, so in today’s world where we are seeing a push towards lower-carbon sources of energy, that has a direct [effect] on our state’s bottom line,” Begger said. “Really, the benefit to these types of technologies moving forward is allowing Wyoming to continue developing its resources and keep its low tax base.”
Begger added that the research the USE IT Act would enable could not only modernize Wyoming’s energy resources, but it could help the state diversify uses for them. Once carbon dioxide is captured, it can be utilized in a number of processes to develop new products and materials.
“What if we can take this CO2, which right now is considered a waste product — some might consider it a liability — and turn it into an asset?” Begger asked.
Carbon dioxide can be used to manufacture carbon fibers, for instance, which are low-weight alternatives to metals like aluminum and can be used in products ranging from bicycles to airplanes.
Begger said the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, which the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority manages, would give the state an advantage in exploring carbon utilization techniques.
The Integrated Test Center is a facility attached to the Dry Fork power station in Gillette that can divert up to 5 percent of the station’s flue gas into research bays. Researchers can then connect small-scale carbon capture technologies to the bays and test them with the Dry Fork station’s gas, which Begger said is a rare opportunity.
“Currently, if researchers want to test a technology on a small scale, what they’re doing is [creating] a flue-gas equivalent,” Begger said. “What we can offer at the ITC is real flue gas with all the actual components and real world conditions — the right temperatures, the right pressures, something you can’t get in a laboratory.”
Dr. Mark Northam, the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources director, said the university is also engaged in researching methods to convert collected carbon dioxide into products, both through the ITC and on the UW campus. Northam added that the university’s research is focused on converting carbon dioxide into physical products.
“There are some people who are looking at fuels – fuels aren’t a very effective way to go about it because the only way to get value out of a fuel is to burn it and make more CO2,” Northam said. “The more appropriate thing to do is to make something durable out of it. There is a lot of research going on around the world to try and make more durable products… The big challenge is how can you make them cost effectively.”
The USE IT Act would also support the construction of carbon capture infrastructure, such as pipelines that transport carbon dioxide from the site where it is captured to the site where it can be utilized.
“That is important not in the form of dollars, but more in shortening the time limit between application and permit delivery by putting a cap of two years on it,” Northam said. “That [makes it easier for] people who want to build pipelines…to get financing because right now it can take six or eight years to get a permit to put in a pipeline.”
Northam added that Wyoming has previously explored paths for carbon dioxide pipes and the state would be well positioned if the bill becomes law.

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