The Milton R. Young Station lignite coal-fired power plant near Center glows as dusk blankets the North Dakota prairie landscape in May. The plant has been operating since 1970 and is one of six lignite coal-fired power plants generating electricity for the region.

Formal studies of a potential carbon dioxide capturing system for coal power plants is kicking off in North Dakota.

A group of industry and state partners has started the preliminary feasibility studies for Project Tundra, which would install a system to capture carbon from the flue gas at the Milton R. Young Station near Center, presenters told the audience of the Lignite Energy Council’s Fall conference on Thursday.

Project participants must decide whether the end product is technically and economically feasible. To do so, a pilot plant is being constructed and tested at the University of North Dakota-based Energy and Environmental Research Center.

In the spring, the pilot plant will be moved to the Young Station to be tested for two to three months directly on the flue gas of the plant’s second unit, said Craig Bleth, environmental manager for Minnkota Power Cooperative, the owner of Young Station.

Bleth said this ensures there will be no surprises when using the equipment in the future. For example, the company doesn't want to find out that the components of North Dakota’s lignite coal react poorly with the solvent used to capture the gas. The solvent is expensive to replace and the project hinges on the plant recycling it.

At NRG's WA Parish generating station southwest of Houston, Texas, a project called Petra Nova has captured carbon from Powder River Basin coal, but that coal has a different chemical makeup.

At Petra Nova, the carbon is captured, compressed and shipped via pipeline to its partner companies’ holdings in the Permian Basin oilfield for enhanced oil recovery.

“It’s working as designed,” Anthony Armpriester, NRG’s director of engineering and construction, told the crowd. “Our oil revenues pay for the entire project.”

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Armpriester said the industry has shown that, at current oil prices, companies are willing to pay about 50 cents per thousand cubic feet of carbon or about $8 to $10 per ton of carbon. When oil prices are higher, about $100 per barrel, companies can afford to pay about $35 per ton.

Most carbon capture projects cost about $65 per ton.

“We’re still at difficult price points to sell CO2,” Armpriester said.

Bleth said Project Tundra participants are “enthusiastic about what we see so far,” as Petra Nova has collected 900,000 tons of its 1.6 million ton goal for the year.

Project Tundra is aiming to capture about 95 percent of the carbon from 65 to 95 percent of Young Station’s flue gas.

The first stage of the project, in addition to on-site testing, is computing a high level economic model, projecting capital expenses for the equipment and transport pipeline. There is a promise of state funding for the second stage of the project, contingent upon receiving U.S. Department of Energy matching funds, for a deeper dive into the engineering of the system, deciding sizing, equipment needs and how to connect the system to the existing plant.

Should the design stage be reached, which usually costs between $25 million and $50 million, it would be near certain that Project Tundra becomes a reality, Bleth said.

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