The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $6 million to researchers for early design work on a system to capture carbon dioxide from an existing North Dakota coal-fired power plant.

The grant money will go to advance Project Tundra, a retrofit of Minnkota Power Cooperative’s Milton R. Young Station near Center to capture 90 percent of emissions from one of the plant’s two units. The project is a partnership between Allete Clean Energy, Minnkota Power and BNI Coal, as well as the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center.

“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,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement.

Project Tundra is modeled after a similar projectt near Houston, Texas, called Petra Nova. Petra Nova is a commercial-scale carbon capture facility at NRG's WA Parish power plant.

John Harju, vice president for strategic partnerships at EERC, said his researchers have been testing the Petra Nova technology in their lab to ensure it can work with North Dakota’s lignite coal burned at the Young Station. This new funding, along with state and industry money, will pay for parallel efforts to calculate a more detailed cost estimate for the full scale project.

Harju said this level of design work, called pre-front end engineering design, won’t get down to every bolt and flange but will be thorough enough to tell industry partners their design options and what the dollars needed.

“This moves the project much further down the line,” Harju said of the DOE funding.

The design work is expected to take about 13 months. If the result shows the retrofit is affordable, full front-end engineering design would take place, according to Minnkota.

“Advancing CO2 capture technology represents an enormous opportunity for our state and nation," Mac McLennan, CEO of Minnkota Power, said in a statement.

Carbon dioxide captured from the young Station could then be utilized for enhanced oil recovery, a technology which EERC also has been advancing in conjunction with its carbon capture work.

Most recently, in Williams County, Harju said EERC and Liberty Resources oil and gas company have been conducting enhanced oil recovery technology involving gases such as propane and ethane.

Harju said they have found the injections move down the cracks in the rock created by hydraulic fracturing. They are working on ways to better manipulate the process so injections will release the oil trapped in the tighter parts of rock formations where hydraulic fracturing hasn't been able to reach.

The study has more than a year left and is expected to be a topic of discussion at the upcoming Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck.

The carbon capture funding comes from the DOE Office of Fossil Energy's Design and Testing of Advanced Carbon Capture Technologies program. Industry credits Hoeven and North Dakota’s other lawmakers for making the funding available and then supporting Project Tundra.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com